UCLA men’s water polo maintains winning streak through Inland Empire Classic
Redshirt sophomore attacker Jack Larsen had a career-best performance with four goals against No. 8 UC San Diego before tacking on another hat trick later in the afternoon to help No. 1 UCLA men’s water polo improve to 7-0 on the season. (Esther Ma/Daily Bruin)
Men's Water Polo
|No. 13 UC Irvine||6|
|No. 1 UCLA||12|
|No. 1 UCLA||15|
|No. 8 UC San Diego||8|
|No. 1 UCLA||24|
By Kyle Boal
Sept. 12, 2021 4:35 p.m.
The Bruins have yet to lose – with or without fans.
For the first time in 670 days, No. 1 UCLA men’s water polo (7-0) welcomed fans to Spieker Aquatics Center as it handled No. 13 UC Irvine (3-1) on Friday 12-6 before defeating No. 8 UC San Diego (5-2) 15-8 and routing No. 19 Pomona-Pitzer (3-3) 24-7 in the Inland Empire Classic on Saturday.
Following a come-from-behind win in their most recent match, the Bruins were knotted with the Anteaters at one goal apiece after the first quarter. Leading 3-2 at halftime, UCLA scored on three of its first four possessions to start the second half, with all three goals assisted by junior attacker Tommy Gruwell, who finished the match with four assists.
Redshirt senior utility Felix Brozyna-Vilim led the way for the Bruins on Friday with a hat trick while adding three drawn exclusions. Brozyna-Vilim, who opted out of the 2020-2021 season, said it feels like nothing has changed since he left the team.
“It feels like I didn’t miss a day at all. I love being with the boys,” Brozyna-Vilim said. “The team is great and hasn’t changed. We picked up some freshmen. But you know, I really don’t feel like I missed a beat at all. It felt really good to be back. I’m happy to be back.”
UCLA nearly doubled UC Irvine’s shooting percentage and converted on over half of its six-on-five opportunities, but coach Adam Wright said his team needs to change its defensive approach to be successful in the future.
“We’re making our lives really difficult, where we have to just claw our way back, but at some point we’re not going to be able to do that,” Wright said. “The reality is, we’re best offensively when we’re playing great defense.”
The slow start continued Saturday as the Bruins fell behind 2-4 against the Tritons before finishing the first quarter tied at four goals apiece. UCLA went on a 7-1 run in the second half, including a 5-0 shutout in the final quarter. Redshirt sophomore attacker Jack Larsen scored a career-high four goals for the Bruins in the win, with two coming in the final stanza.
Larsen said the way the Bruins prepare mentally sets them apart from their opponents.
“We’re doing things that other teams aren’t in terms of the psychological side of water polo,” Larsen said. “We’re always trying to stay consistent, and we’re going to keep building on that.”
Larsen finished the day with nine total points, five of which came against Pomona-Pitzer in the second game of the afternoon. Fourteen different Bruins scored in the matchup with the Sagehens, with freshman attacker Chase Dodd, sophomore attacker Tanner Pulice and junior attacker Andy Rodgers joining Larsen in scoring a hat trick.
Wright said despite shooting 24-of-35 in the latter game, his team depended on its offensive output.
“We don’t want to rely just on our offense, that’s the concerning thing for me,” Wright said. “(Saturday) was great, but tomorrow could not be, and that’s where we have to close the gap in how we’re approaching our defense.”
Sophomore goalkeeper Garret Griggs totaled 23 saves over the first two games, while redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Chase Honaker finished with a career-high 13 saves in his lone match.
With the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation invitational just two weeks away, Wright said this weekend’s games served as a good opportunity to find the best lineup rotations.
“At this juncture, we’re just trying to see which players are willing to change and evolve in how we’re asking them to do things,” Wright said. “The big thing for us right now is figuring out which guys work well together, which players are committed to doing things the right way.”
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