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Men’s water polo delivers back-to-back wins to maintain home winning streak

Sophomore attacker Tanner Pulice led No. 3 UCLA men’s water polo in points Saturday with two goals and two assists as the Bruins bested the Midshipmen for their second win of the day. (David Rimer/Assistant Photo editor)

Men's Water Polo

No. 9 San Jose State8
No. 3 UCLA18
No. 3 UCLA13

By Kyle Boal

Oct. 4, 2021 12:56 a.m.

The Bruins remain perfect at home.

No. 3 UCLA men’s water polo (13-1) swam away with two wins at Spieker Aquatics Center on Saturday, defeating No. 9 San Jose State (8-10) in the early game 18-8 before beating Navy (6-10) later that evening 13-5. The blue and gold held both opponents to under 30% shooting.

Coach Adam Wright – named National Coach of the Year for the fourth time in his career a season ago – said his team’s approach to defense fueled its offensive outburst against the Spartans.

“Our energy was a lot better on the defensive side, which helps our counterattack and also early balls into our center,” Wright said. “When we play defense with the right intensity, it fuels the rest of our game. There were a lot of positives – there was a good amount of shot blocks going off in the second half.”

Despite drawing seven exclusions, including five from redshirt senior utility Felix Brozyna-Vilim, the Bruins finished 1-of-3 on the powerplay. UCLA converted on all four five-meter attempts it earned against SJSU.

Seven players netted multiple goals in the contest while freshman attacker Chase Dodd and junior attacker Tommy Gruwell both earned hat tricks. Gruwell tied for the team lead in assists with two, finishing with five points.

Starting in his third consecutive match after missing the first 10 games of the season, junior goalkeeper Bernardo Maurizi finished with eight saves while adding his first assist of the season.

Redshirt sophomore utility Giorgio Alessandria said his team approaches each opponent, no matter its ranking, the same way.

“We treat them as if they were California or Stanford,” Alessandria said. “That’s just how we treat things. We try to keep it as consistent as we can get in the game because that will put us in the best possible place.”

The Bruins outscored the Spartans in every quarter, but SJSU managed to score three fourth-quarter goals, a feat neither No. 2 California nor No. 4 Stanford were able to achieve versus UCLA earlier this season.

Wright said he was disappointed with the lack of energy finishing each stanza.

“At the end of the quarters, you can’t have that – where we put ourselves in a good position and then we absolutely let off the gas,” Wright said. “No matter what rotation is out there, you can’t have those let downs.”

Sophomore attacker Tanner Pulice, who finished the weekend a perfect 3-for-3 including a team-lead-tying two goals against Navy, said his offensive performance was based on his defensive mindset.

“I got a couple good looks at the cage in both games, and I got one of them to the back of the net, but there’s so many steps that come before that,” Pulice said. “Scoring a goal starts with the passing and obviously a defensive stop that leads to the opportunity to get a shot on the offensive end.”

Despite a 10-3 lead against the Midshipmen at halftime later that evening, the Bruins finished with only a 3-2 advantage in the second half to finish the game.

Alessandria said the Bruins are working to play consistent water polo for all 32 minutes.

“We’ll have some games where we’re doing great in our defense, our body positioning is there, our focus is there, just doing what we’re supposed to do,” Alessandria said. “Then in other games, we totally let it slip and that’s when we get beat. Everything that we need is in front of us – if we can actually put it into practice and not just theory, that’s where we will excel to the next level.”

Ten UCLA players found the back of the net against Navy. Sophomore attacker Hayden Nightingale and freshman center Eli Liechty, who added three drawn exclusions, joined Pulice as the lone Bruins with multiple goals.

Redshirt freshman attacker Gianpiero Di Martire finished with three assists, as one of four UCLA players to finish with a hat trick in points against Navy.

Sophomore goalkeeper Garret Griggs started in the cage for the Bruins, recording five saves. Redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Chase Honaker finished the match for UCLA, earning four saves in eight minutes. The Bruins outstole the Midshipmen 14-9.

Pulice said UCLA is getting each team’s best effort after winning a national championship a season prior.

“We’re going to get everyone’s best game – we have a target on our back so to speak,” Pulice said. “We’ve already seen that with some of the lower ranked teams coming out and giving us really good games.”

The Bruins will return to action at Spieker Aquatics Center on Saturday at 1 p.m. as they host the Cardinal in both teams’ first conference game of the season.

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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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