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Men’s water polo snaps 13-game win streak with loss to Stanford in tournament

Senior goalkeeper Bernardo Maurizi goes for a save after the ball gets past freshman attacker Noah Rowe. Maurizi tallied 24 total saves across three games at the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Invite. (Joseph Jimenez/Assistant Photo editor)

Men's water polo

No. 2 seed UCLA13
No. 15 seed Santa Clara9
No. 2 seed UCLA7
No. 7 seed Long Beach State6
No. 2 seed UCLA13
No. 3 seed USC12
No. 2 seed UCLA7
No. 4 seed Stanford8

By Ricardo Garcia

Sept. 26, 2022 2:36 p.m.

This post was updated Sept. 27 at 8:32 p.m.

The Bruins finished as runners-up in their final midseason tournament.

No. 2 seed UCLA men’s water polo (13-1) took part in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Invite at Stanford, playing four games over three days in a field of 16 teams.

The Bruins opened the tournament with a 13-9 victory over No. 15 seed Santa Clara (3-5) Friday afternoon. The blue and gold then survived a pair of one-goal victories on day two over No. 7 seed Long Beach State (10-5) and No. 3 seed USC (10-4), winning 7-6 and 13-12, respectively. In the final game of the weekend, however, UCLA fell 8-7 to No. 4 seed Stanford (13-0) in the championship game, suffering its first loss of the year.

In the opener against the Broncos, the Bruins drew first blood on a goal by senior center Gabe Discipulo after a scoreless 3 1/2 minutes to open the game. That would be the only goal the blue and gold scored in the opening quarter, trailing 2-1 heading into the second.

After Santa Clara added two more goals to extend its lead to 4-1, UCLA engineered a 3-0 run to tie the game at four apiece. Minutes later, the Bruins took the lead for good when redshirt freshman center Grant Loth dented the twine with 34 seconds left in the first half.

“Our biggest strength is that we get to start the game playing a bunch of different people, and we try to wear through teams in the beginning,” said graduate student utility Evan Rosenfeld. “We use our depth at the beginning to really tire teams out, and I think that’s why we see us start off maybe a little slow.”

Redshirt sophomore attacker Gianpiero Di Martire led all scorers with four goals in the game, setting a new career high. Meanwhile, junior goalkeeper Garret Griggs recorded 11 saves and allowed nine goals in his sixth start.

UCLA was shut out in the first quarter of day two, failing to put a shot past Beach goalkeeper Andrej Bosanac until freshman utility Gray Carson’s second-quarter goal. However, it would be the only point the offense would score in the first half, as the Bruins fell behind 2-1 entering intermission.

The blue and gold’s offense picked up steam out of the halftime break, scoring three unanswered goals to take its first lead of the game. UCLA would carry a 5-3 lead into the fourth quarter behind sophomore attacker Chase Dodd’s second goal of the game.

With the Bruins leading 7-6 on the Beach’s final possession of the game, Dodd helped secure the win on the defensive end, knocking down the final shot to preserve the comeback.

“It puts us in a really tough position where we’re always scrambling to play back in second halves,” coach Adam Wright said. “What we try to convey to the guys is if we can start that way, actually, it makes our lives much easier if we’re going to start playing defense that way.”

With a chance to advance to its first MPSF Invite Finals since 2017, UCLA battled its crosstown rival for the second time this season.

It was a high-scoring battle through the first half, as both teams entered halftime knotted at six goals apiece. Senior attacker Tommy Gruwell paced the Bruins’ scoring with a hat trick in the game’s first 16 minutes.

(Joseph Jimenez/Assistant Photo editor)
Senior attacker Tommy Gruwell swims with the ball. Gruwell recorded a goal in three of the Bruins’ four games this weekend. (Joseph Jimenez/Assistant Photo editor)

Both teams kept even in the third quarter, battling to a 10-10 tie while trying to keep emotions in check. USC coach Marko Pintaric was carded twice in the quarter, while Trojan utility Andrej Grgurevic and Bruin redshirt junior utility Giorgio Alessandria would each receive a yellow card in the final minute of the period.

Senior goalkeeper Bernardo Maurizi said the team works on handling its emotions both in and out of the pool for moments like this.

“We have been given tools to deal with emotions,” Maurizi said. “When your mind is tired, when you’re under pressure, when there are fans yelling at you, I do feel really prepared when it comes to managing my emotions because that’s what we’ve been talking about since my freshman year.”

With the game on the line in the final stanza, the blue and gold would take the lead for good on Gruwell’s career-high fifth goal.

While trying to run out the clock in the waning seconds, a near turnover by Dodd was wiped away on a penalty after the Trojans attempted to call timeout without having clear possession of the ball. Though UCLA would miss the subsequent penalty shot, it walked away with its second win of the season over USC.

“We’ve got to do a better job of taking care of the ball,” said Wright. “That’s emotions, communication. The teammate doesn’t see the person coming in, he doesn’t hear you, then you better communicate even louder.”

In the championship game between the last two undefeated teams in the country, the Bruins carried a 4-3 lead into halftime with four different players each denting the twine.

However, Stanford then took its first lead of the game, scoring twice out of the halftime break to lead 5-4. With 1:15 left in the third, redshirt junior attacker Jack Larsen tied the game at seven all with his only goal of the game. It would also prove to be the final Bruin goal of the contest, as the offense was shut out in the final nine minutes of the game.

Stanford driver Soren Jensen netted the game-winner at the 5:05 mark in the fourth quarter, and UCLA failed to find the equalizer as its 13-game winning streak was snapped.

Seven players scored a goal in the final contest of the weekend, but the Bruins were a combined 7-of-32 for a 22% shooting percentage.

Rosenfeld credited the Cardinal defense for limiting the Bruin offense but also acknowledged the team needed quality shots.

“They pressed us, and we weren’t prepared for that,” said Rosenfeld. “Nolan (goalkeeper Nolan Krutonog) did a good job, but we weren’t necessarily putting the best shots on cage.”

UCLA will return to Spieker Aquatics Center on Friday for the first time in 21 days for a matchup against No. 4 Pacific.

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