Men’s water polo works on improving defense, prepares for conference play
UCLA men’s water polo held its opponents to under seven goals per contest in seven games this season, but coach Adam Wright said the Bruins need to “get a whole lot better” defensively. (Esther Ma/Daily Bruin)
By Kyle Boal
Sept. 16, 2021 1:06 p.m.
The Bruins are focused on improving defensively, according to coach Adam Wright.
No. 1 UCLA men’s water polo (7-0) has conceded 6.6 goals per game this season, almost halving its allowed goals per contest from last season through seven games. Despite the blue and gold allowing 11 goals per game at this juncture a season ago, its competition included three matches against California, two versus USC and one apiece with Pepperdine and Stanford – the top-five teams in the country at the time.
Wright said his team is making errors against lower-ranked teams that will cost them during conference play.
“There’s still some mistakes that are going to kill us,” Wright said. “It’s just not acceptable because what we don’t realize is a lot of those are going to be goals that maybe we got away with. Our goal is blocking them and or the team not capitalizing and we have got to tighten that up. One of the staples of UCLA water polo has always been our defense, and we’re not where we need to be.”
The Bruins’ goal differential is the slimmest during the first quarter. UCLA held only a 7-6 combined advantage in its games against then-No. 14 Cal Baptist, No. 13 UC Irvine and then-No. 8 UC San Diego in the first quarter, while trailing against then-No. 6 UC Santa Barbara until the final quarter.
Redshirt sophomore attacker Jack Larsen, who scored an opening quarter goal in both games at the Inland Empire Classic on Saturday, said his team’s sluggish starts is something they’re focused on fixing.
“We’ve had some slow starts where our energy is lacking a little bit,” Larsen said. “We need to have a mindful presence. Ultimately, we need to just be able to be focused, draw attention to the task at hand and really finish the game. Once our defense comes, our offense just flows better.”
In the final stanza, however, the Bruins have only allowed nine goals all season. UCLA outscored its two highest-ranked opponents thus far, Santa Barbara and San Diego, 9-1 in the fourth quarter.
The blue and gold also top the charts defensively in comparison to conference foes, as redshirt freshman attacker Gianpiero Di Martire ranks second in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation in steals per game while sophomore goalkeeper Garret Griggs is the conference’s runner-up in saves per game.
Redshirt senior utility Felix Brozyna-Vilim, who led the program with 73 drawn exclusions in 2019, said Wright spends time watching every possession of game film multiple times to continue to improve.
“Adam tells us that he spends an hour and a half watching each quarter of the film because he watches every single position,” Brozyna-Vilim said. “He watches each position, every possession, then restarts it. So he watches each play six times. He watches every stroke and everything. To have a coach do that and have that much commitment to help us is so cool.”
But with a rematch against the Gauchos on Saturday and the Bruins’ first crack at conference foes looming, Wright reiterated his team’s focus going forward.
“It’s straightforward and simple,” Wright said. “Our approach to how we want to play defense, our mindset, our mentality, our energy, our intensity and commitment to playing fundamentally sound defense, it’s got to get a whole lot better.”