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Men’s water polo team finds success after a tough start to its weekend

Tommy Gruwell, 2019 third-team All-American sophomore attacker, scored 11 goals in four games over the weekend, leading UCLA men’s water polo to back-to-back Sunday wins. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Kyle Boal

Jan. 25, 2021 4:18 p.m.

It was a tale of two completely different days.

No. 3 UCLA men’s water polo (2-2) got off to its worst start since 2002, dropping both games on Saturday, first to No. 5 California (2-2) 17-16 in double overtime and then to No. 1 USC (2-2) 12-7 later in the evening. The Bruins rebounded Sunday, starting with an 11-8 win over the Trojans and finishing the round-robin weekend with a 10-7 victory over the Golden Bears.

Each of the three teams involved in the weekend split games against one another, going 2-2.

Coach Adam Wright – a three-time National Coach of the Year – said after the first day, the team had a unique opportunity to reset and try again.

“As a whole, as a staff, we take responsibility, but as a whole, we understand that we could be much better,” Wright said. “The nice part about it is we come back tomorrow and we reset and we do this whole thing over again. So we get a chance tomorrow to get better. We get a chance tomorrow to play the same teams that are obviously top teams in the country. And we know if we can do it the right way, it will be different.”

Wright’s team did exactly that. Whereas sophomore goalkeeper Bernardo Maurizi recorded 15 saves on day one, he finished with 20 saves on day two – including a season-high of 12 against USC – taking his weekend total to 35. Maurizi attributed the team’s second-day success to better defense.

“We managed to play under emotional control the last two games,” Maurizi said. “As you can see, the defense helped me a lot. We played much better with five men, and on a strong court defense, they helped me a lot. My job was easier in the last two games for sure.”

UCLA’s weekend-opening game against California saw the Bruins hold a two-goal lead four times, including a two-point lead with 1:32 remaining in the game. The Golden Bears went on to score three goals before junior attacker Jake Cavano – the blue and gold’s leading scorer in 2019 – tipped the ball into the back of the net with one second left in regulation.

Trading goals in the first overtime, California secured an early two-goal lead in the second overtime that the Bruins would never recover from.

USC’s Jacob Mercep later went for seven goals against UCLA en route to a five-goal margin of victory, and tallied as many goals as the entire Bruin team combined.

Sophomore attacker Tommy Gruwell – who led the team in goals this weekend with 11 – said the team watched film from the games at the end of the first night, which helped the Bruins make the necessary adjustments to secure two victories the following day.

“We had a meeting last night with some film and talked about what we need to do tactically, and just as a whole with our identity and how we approach the game,” Gruwell said. “We had a nice long meeting (and) talked about what adjustments we need to make. (Wright) just told us to stick to our identities (and) stick to our teams. And we did that, just played with energy and represented UCLA and came back. We got two wins today.”

Maurizi – named the Best Italian Water Polo Goalkeeper at both the U13 and U15 Italian Men’s Water Polo National Championships – said great teams show up with confidence, and the team is learning to find that under Wright’s direction.

“We know the greatest show up in the pool with confidence, confidence in what they are doing,” Maurizi said. “We are capable of doing a lot of things like that and we’re pumped about that because (Wright) is a really great coach that just puts us in the best situation. Then it’s up to us to perform and to follow his directions.”

Freshman attacker Tanner Pulice joined senior attacker Nicolas Saveljic and Gruwell as the only players to score at least once in each of the four games. Senior attacker Chasen Travisano and Cavano ended one game short, each scoring in three of the four contests.

The Bruins had a combined eight penalty fouls after day one, but reduced that number to three on day two.

Wright said the weekend gave the team confidence going forward and proved to the team they can beat any team in the country if they play the right way.

“The big thing is we had to prove to ourselves, if we play the right way, we do things the right way, then we can play with anyone,” Wright said. “The big piece is to go from where we were yesterday to today. Confidence starts to grow in the group and then the individuals. … My thing is you can never guarantee anything, but this was a big, big step for us today, to be able to turn it around so quickly.”

UCLA will return to action Saturday at 11:00 a.m., hosting No. 4 Pepperdine in the Bruins’ home opener at Spieker Aquatics Center.

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Kyle Boal | Sports senior staff
Boal is currently a Sports senior staff writer on the women's water polo beat. He was an assistant Sports editor on the gymnastics, rowing, swim and dive, men's water polo and women's water polo beats. Boal was previously a contributor on the men's water polo and women's water polo beats.
Boal is currently a Sports senior staff writer on the women's water polo beat. He was an assistant Sports editor on the gymnastics, rowing, swim and dive, men's water polo and women's water polo beats. Boal was previously a contributor on the men's water polo and women's water polo beats.
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