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UCLA men’s water polo wins MPSF tournament, prepares for NCAA championship

Redshirt senior utility Felix Brozyna-Vilim scored the game-winning goal for No. 3 seed UCLA men’s water polo Sunday as the Bruins beat No. 4 seed Stanford to claim their first Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championship since 2015. (Ashley Kenney/Photo editor)

Men’s Water Polo

No. 3 seed UCLA26
No. 6 seed Penn State Behrend3
No. 3 seed UCLA6
No. 2 seed USC5
No. 3 seed UCLA11
No. 4 seed Stanford10

By Kyle Boal

Nov. 21, 2021 4:27 p.m.

This post was updated Nov. 22 at 12:28 p.m.

The Bruins are Mountain Pacific Sports Federation champions for the first time in six years. 

No. 3 seed UCLA men’s water polo (19-3, 1-2 MPSF) toppled No. 4 seed Stanford (19-6, 0-3) on Sunday 11-10 at Avery Aquatic Center to earn an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. Earlier in the tournament, the blue and gold became the second team this season to defeat No. 2 seed USC (17-2, 2-1), earning a 6-5 victory Saturday after trouncing No. 6 seed Penn State Behrend (0-21) on Friday 26-3. 

The tournament win marked the program’s first conference championship since its undefeated 2015 season and put an end to Stanford’s conference record of three MPSF championship victories in a row. 

Despite the Cardinal taking a 2-1 lead after the first quarter, the Bruins took a 3-2 lead minutes into the second stanza as part of an unanswered six-goal run that gave the blue and gold a 7-2 lead by the third period. Junior attacker Tommy Gruwell had a hat trick in points before halftime, contributing to a 5-0 second quarter for UCLA. 

“We definitely felt like we were always in control,” Gruwell said. “They got some pretty good shots, but we always were dictating the game. We were controlling the pace and we were playing good defense.”

Even with better power play and shooting percentages, with the Bruins stopping the Cardinal’s only penalty shot attempt, UCLA’s multigoal lead diminished throughout the third quarter as Stanford scored four goals and cut the lead to two.

The Cardinal scored four goals in the fourth period as well, but senior attacker/utility Jake Cavano’s goal assisted by graduate student attacker Chasen Travisano returned the game to a two-goal lead with two minutes to play. Stanford responded less than 20 seconds later with a goal of its own to bring the game back within one.

Redshirt senior utility Felix Brozyna-Vilim scored the Bruins’ final goal with over one minute to play as part of a team-leading three goals on perfect shooting. 

“We did go 5-0 in the second quarter, but we knew that in the second half they were going to bring everything they can,” Brozyna-Vilim said. “And they did. They played well. But we stuck to our game plan and that let us come out on top.”

To earn a berth in the championship game, the Bruins defeated the Trojans on Saturday despite not scoring a goal in the second half. The blue and gold opened the game with back-to-back three-goal periods, enough to carry the team to victory. 

After allowing 42% of shot attempts to find the back of the net in the first rendition of the crosstown splashdown Nov. 6, UCLA limited the USC offense to 17% shooting. The Bruins did not allow a five-on-six goal in 11 power play attempts for the Trojans. 

“In that first game (against USC) we didn’t play our best,” Brozyna-Vilim said. “We had some time to prepare for this last game, we had this tournament. We came in with a good game plan. We stuck to it and it worked out pretty well.”

Graduate student attacker Nicolas Saveljic recorded a hat trick in goals and steals against USC, including one of UCLA’s two successful 5-meter attempts in the game. Junior goalkeeper Bernardo Maurizi did not allow a goal in the final period and secured seven saves. The Bruins entered the tournament having suffered back-to-back losses, requiring an opening-round match instead of securing a first-round bye. UCLA scored a season-high 26 goals in Friday’s win over Penn State Behrend, shooting a season-best 26-of-36, including perfect conversion rates on the power play and on 5-meter attempts. 

The blue and gold had 10 players with hat tricks in points against the Lions as every player who entered the pool besides goalkeepers recorded a point. Gruwell tied his career high with five goals to lead the Bruins in scoring.

With the conference crown claimed, UCLA is set to host the NCAA tournament at Spieker Aquatics Center in two weeks as it will have the chance to defend its national championship win from a season ago.

“We always want to win – we don’t want to lose, ever,” Gruwell said. “Winning is cool. We put in a lot of time and effort these past six months, and I’d definitely say we’re confident. Everybody’s on the same page, we got one last push here and we’re going to make some final finishing touches.”

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Kyle Boal | Sports senior staff
Boal is currently a Sports senior staff writer on the women's water polo beat. 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 women's water polo beat. 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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