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Men’s water polo secures chance at NCAA championship title

Leading UCLA men’s water polo in scoring Saturday, sophomore attacker Tommy Gruwell recorded a hat trick, including the game-winning goal with just over one minute to play to advance the Bruins to the national championship. (Christine Kao/Daily Bruin staff)

men’s water polo


No. 4 seed UCLA11
No. 1 seed Stanford10

By Kyle Boal

March 20, 2021 5:43 p.m.

The Bruins are one game away from bringing trophy No. 119 to Westwood.

No. 4 seed UCLA men’s water polo (8-7, 5-5 MPSF) upset No. 1 seed and Mountain Pacific Sports Federation champion Stanford (6-4, 3-3) on Saturday 11-10 in the NCAA semifinals. The Bruins will advance to play the winner of No. 2 seed California (8-4, 7-3) and No. 3 seed USC (7-8, 3-7) on Sunday for the national championship.

“This was a huge moment for this team and our program,” said coach Adam Wright. “We made some mistakes that you don’t want to make. But they found a way to finish and that’s a big thing for a really young group. We have seven guys here that are in their first year, so the finishing part today was really good for them.”

The blue and gold had defeated Stanford – the defending national champions – in two of three matchups this season entering the match and never trailed Saturday.

In the opening round, UCLA allowed California Baptist to convert 4-of-5 during five-on-six situations as well as allowing 3-of-3 on penalty shots. In contrast, the Bruins held the Cardinal to 4-of-9 on powerplays without allowing the opportunity for a penalty shot.

On the offensive end, the team converted 8-of-10 during man-up opportunities. Sophomore attacker Tommy Gruwell led the Bruins with a hat trick, all of which came on powerplays. The second team All-MPSF awardee said the team practiced taking what the defense gave them.

“We talked about really being surgical with our movements on the post and our outside movements,” Gruwell said. “And that allowed us to open up and read their defense and what they’re giving us. I think that we just did a really good job of committing to our movements and what play we were running.”

Doubling Stanford’s score in the first quarter, UCLA jumped out to a 4-2 lead and entered halftime up 8-5. The Bruins were scoreless in the third quarter as the Cardinal’s Tyler Abramson – the game’s leading scorer with four goals – netted two in the third to bring Stanford back within one.

“That third quarter, we completely got away from what we were doing in the first half and started rushing things and give credit to Stanford,” Wright said. “They forced us into decisions, and they were bad decisions on our part, that put us on our heels the whole quarter. And we’re gonna have to tighten that up for tomorrow.”

Senior attacker Nicolas Saveljic – the team’s leading scorer and one of two seniors – scored two goals in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter to put UCLA up 10-8. Stanford battled back to knot the game at 10 with just under two minutes to go before Gruwell netted the game-winning goal with one minute to play.

In the cage for the Bruins was sophomore goalkeeper Bernardo Maurizi who recorded seven saves and three steals. UCLA registered nine steals to Stanford’s five in the game.

Ten individual players recorded a point, including redshirt junior utility Evan Rosenfeld who had three assists in the afternoon. Rosenfeld additionally drew two exclusions but was also whistled for two.

The two-time second team All-MPSF honoree said taking deep breaths helped him remain present.

“Of course there’s a lot of emotion and I think for me, it’s just part of our themes to take a couple deep breaths and bring it back,” Rosenfeld said. “When I get emotional, I get excited and my energy kind of goes too far in one direction and I got in some trouble there. That’s kind of what it came down to just refocusing, bringing my energy back to the middle and then moving on.”

The Bruins now await the winner of the Golden Bears and Trojans, whom UCLA went 1-3 and 2-3 against this season, respectively.

Nonetheless, Wright said he likes his team’s chances at winning his fourth national championship as head coach.

“Today was really big for UCLA water polo,” Wright said. “For a group to understand that when you do things the right way, you put yourself in a good position. … It’s a final game against two incredible programs that we’re waiting to see who it’s going to be. It’s going to come back to us and if we can do things the right way then we’re going to have our shot and that’s all we want is our chance to be successful.”

The national championship’s first sprint will be at 2 p.m. at USC’s Uytengsu Aquatics Center.

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Kyle Boal | Assistant Sports editor
Boal is currently the assistant Sports editor and a reporter on the gymnastics, rowing, swim and dive, men's water polo and women's water polo beats. He was previously a contributor on the men's water polo and women's water polo beats. He is also a second-year student studying statistics.
Boal is currently the assistant Sports editor and a reporter on the gymnastics, rowing, swim and dive, men's water polo and women's water polo beats. He was previously a contributor on the men's water polo and women's water polo beats. He is also a second-year student studying statistics.
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