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Men’s water polo reflects on midseason performance after MPSF Invitational

UCLA men’s water polo took down two top-10 opponents at the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Invitational on Saturday and Sunday, including holding Stanford under seven goals for the first time since 2016. (David Rimer/Assistant Photo editor)

By Ricardo Garcia

Sept. 29, 2021 2:23 p.m.

Even after taking down two top-10 opponents over the weekend, the Bruins still have room to improve, according to coach Adam Wright.

No. 3 UCLA men’s water polo (11-1) returned home from Berkeley having finished third in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Invitational, defeating both No. 6 Pacific (5-6) and No. 4 Stanford (12-2) but dropping a one-goal game to No. 2 California (13-1) in between its wins.

Wright – who said prior to the tournament that his team needed to better develop its defense – said he found another aspect the Bruins ought to work on after the weekend.

“Our attack all weekend was not good,” Wright said. “We have great balance in our attack as far as scoring and shooters and centers. We just did not do a good job in our attack over the course of those three games.”

Throughout the tournament, UCLA shot a combined 42.3% from the field. On the power play, however, the Bruins shot 5-for-23, which included an 0-for-5 performance in their win over Stanford on Sunday.

“Our 6-on-5 needs to improve,” said redshirt senior utility Felix Brozyna-Vilim. “We’re going to look back on this weekend and learn from it.”

Defensively, UCLA allowed 27.5% of opposing shots to find the back of the net. The blue and gold allowed 39.1% shooting from the field against Pacific and 31.3% against Cal, but just 16.7% against Stanford. On the power play, however, the Bruins gave up 40.9% shooting in their first two games before holding the Cardinal to 2-of-7 in 6-on-5 opportunities.

After the tournament opener against the Tigers, Wright said he thought his team had turned the corner on finding the right intensity on defense to start the game but said past issues had begun to pop up again.

“Unfortunately, we were kind of back to where we were a few weeks ago,” Wright said. “The reality is we have to find a way from a defensive standpoint to get ourselves going because when we’re playing good defense then the rest of our game is being played on a higher level.”

Despite holding Stanford to under seven goals for the first time since 2016, junior goalkeeper Bernardo Maurizi said the team can be even better defensively.

“We gave up six goals, but we can be so much better,” Maurizi said.

Maurizi, a second-team All-American and the MPSF leader in saves last season, has allowed 16 goals while registering 12 saves in each of his first two appearances this season.

Wright added that the tournament finale against the Cardinal felt like a turning point during the weekend, attributing the historically low number of goals allowed to Maurizi’s defensive prowess.

“Bernardo was really, really good in the goal for us, and that’s why you see the six goals that Stanford scored,” Wright said. “We played one good quarter in the fourth, which also speaks of where we could potentially go as a program.”

The weekend also served as an opportunity for UCLA to measure up against conference competition, as well as some teams near the top of the national rankings.

While the Bruins have played 10 of their 12 games this season against ranked opponents, the MPSF Invitational was the first time UCLA has matched up against other teams ranked in the top four. The Bruins split their contests against the Golden Bears and Cardinal, both of which were tied at No. 3 in the rankings heading into the tournament.

Brozyna-Vilim said after the invitational that UCLA can go head-to-head with any team in the country.

“This weekend was a good indication of where we stand,” Brozyna-Vilim said. “I think we can compete with anyone.”

Wright, on the other hand, said his team still has a long way to go before it reaches that point.

“That’s the beauty of having this midseason type of big tournament where all the top teams are at,” Wright said. “It lets us know kind of where we’re at, the things we need to work on. If we can grow and be willing to change, we’ll have a chance to be the best team in the country.”

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Ricardo Garcia | Sports contributor
Garcia is currently a contributor on the men's water polo and swim & dive beats. He was previously a contributor on the track & field beat.
Garcia is currently a contributor on the men's water polo and swim & dive beats. He was previously a contributor on the track & field beat.
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