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No. 1 UCLA men’s water polo opens season with sweep of Triton Invitational

With junior goalkeeper Bernardo Maurizi out for the weekend, sophomore goalkeeper Garret Griggs slotted into the starting lineup for UCLA men’s water polo. Griggs’ weekend was highlighted by an eight-save effort in a comeback victory over UC Santa Barbara. (Ariana Fadel/Daily Bruin)

Men's Water Polo

No. 1 UCLA21
No. 1 UCLA16
No. 1 UCLA10
No. 14 California Baptist8
No. 1 UCLA14
No. 6 UCSB12

By Kyle Boal

Sept. 6, 2021 2:42 p.m.

This post was updated Sept. 6 at 8:51 p.m.

The Bruins were tested in their season debut.

No. 1 UCLA men’s water polo (4-0) kicked off its season at the Triton Invitational, defeating Biola (0-4) and Whittier College (0-2) on Saturday 21-2 and 16-3, respectively, before outlasting No. 14 California Baptist (1-3) on Sunday 10-8 and finishing the weekend with a come-from-behind 14-12 win over No. 6 UC Santa Barbara (3-1). The tournament, hosted at UC San Diego’s Canyonview Aquatic Center, was the Bruins’ first without a conference foe in nearly two years.

Despite finishing the weekend with an unblemished record, the blue and gold had to do it without junior goalkeeper Bernardo Maurizi and graduate student attackers Nicolas Saveljic and Chasen Travisano, who missed the entire weekend.

“We didn’t take this weekend lightly at all – clearly, we had some really good games,” said coach Adam Wright. “A lot of guys who didn’t get much experience last year got a lot of minutes this weekend against great teams. We’re still navigating some of the things that we navigated last year as far as getting people up to the fitness standpoint and making sure we’re not going to put them in a position where they get injured.”

UCLA trailed for less than six minutes all weekend until its final matchup Sunday afternoon against UCSB.

Behind by two goals with just under six minutes to play against the Gauchos, freshman attacker Chase Dodd and redshirt freshman attacker Gianpiero Di Martire helped the Bruins to a 4-1 fourth-quarter advantage to secure the victory. Di Martire scored the first and final goals of the quarter for UCLA while Dodd netted the shots to tie and take the lead.

Dodd finished the weekend as the team’s leading scorer, while Di Martire topped the team in steals and field blocks.

“I feel like (trailing) was really good for us – every game is a test for us,” Dodd said. “There’s going to be a new thing thrown at you every game. You’re never going to see yourself always ahead, it’s about just trying to find a way to get through it.”

UCSB attacker Sawyer Rhodes scored six goals against the Bruins while Cal Baptist duo of attacker Hunter Barnett and two-meter defender PJ McDonough accounted for seven of the team’s eight goals. The Bruins led 10-4 against the Lancers before conceding four straight fourth-quarter goals to finish the game.

Wright, who strives to hold opponents to six scores or less, said to compete for a national championship, his team needs to improve on the defensive end of the pool.

“Defensively, we have got to be a whole lot better,” Wright said. “We have to tighten down our defense if we want to have a chance to be the best team in the country. We need to have a different mindset in how we approach our defense.”

With Maurizi – the MPSF leader in saves a season prior – out, the Bruins turned to sophomore goalkeeper Garret Griggs and redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Chase Honaker to protect the cage for the weekend. Griggs highlighted the weekend with eight saves against the Gauchos.

While the Bruins prevailed by two goals in each of their games Sunday, Saturday’s contests were a different story. UCLA opened its season with two wins in which it outscored its opponents by a combined 32 goals, including a 19-goal margin in a win over Biola.

The game between the Bruins and Eagles represented the season opener for both teams, but it also happened to be the inaugural game in Biola’s program history. Wright – who attended basketball camps at Biola’s campus in La Mirada, California, as a kid – said it was a welcome sight to see a new school added to the sport.

After scoring two goals and tacking on an assist in the matchup, Dodd said Wright is the most intelligent coach he’s ever played for.

“Adam is very crafty, and very, very smart with how he approaches each and every game,” Dodd said. “He puts a lot of trust into his system and how everyone does what they’re supposed to do. That’s what Adam is really good at, teaching each player responsibility.”

Freshman center Eli Liechty scored four of his seven goals in the tournament against the Poets, while redshirt senior utility Felix Brozyna-Vilim earned a hat trick, good for half of his tournament total.

Griggs said integrating 10 freshmen and 12 sophomores into the pool is no easy feat, but added that he and the rest of the program’s underclassmen are grateful for any opportunity to play.

“We’re trying not to go backwards,” Griggs said. “We’ve always tried to keep our culture as pure as we can. And with all the younger guys, it’s difficult because you have people coming in from high schools and club teams from all around the country to this one team. … But all the freshmen have done a great job so far.”

UCLA will host No. 13 UC Irvine in its home opener on Friday at Spieker Aquatics Center.

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Kyle Boal | Sports senior staff
Boal is currently a Sports senior staff writer on the football, men's water polo and swim & dive beats. 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 football, men's water polo and swim & dive beats. 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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