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UCLA men’s water polo prepares for upcoming NCAA tournament

Senior attacker Andy Rodgers lifts the ball out of the water. Rodgers tallied two goals at the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament, bringing him to 19 on the season. (Shengfeng Chien/Daily Bruin staff)

Men's Water Polo

No. 8 Princeton or No. 1 USC
Saturday, 4 p.m.

Spieker Aquatics Complex
No TV info

By Ricardo Garcia

Nov. 30, 2022 10:41 p.m.

The Bruins are set to begin their quest for a second championship in three seasons.

No. 3 UCLA men’s water polo (22-4, 2-1 MPSF) will open its NCAA tournament run Saturday at Spieker Aquatics Complex in Berkeley, marking its 37th all-time appearance in the end-of-season bracket.

Even with a fourth-place finish at the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament, the Bruins received an at-large selection and a bye into the semifinals for the first time since 2018. Defending champion No. 2 California (21-2, 3-0) received the top seed, while MPSF tournament champion No. 1 USC (18-6, 1-2) received the conference’s automatic bid.

Senior attacker Andy Rodgers said the team did not play well at the start of the final two games of the tournament.

“We feel confident in what we can do when we play our game,” Rodgers said. “We didn’t do a good job of that during the MPSF tournament. We didn’t come out very well during the USC game, and then we got just a little bit too emotional during the Cal game.”

The Bruins have not fared well against the Golden Bears in recent years. While UCLA leads the all-time series 90-76-1, Cal has won eight of the last nine meetings since the 2020 season, including two one-goal victories this year.

Sophomore attacker Chase Dodd said it’s important for UCLA to play to its own style and not fall for Cal’s tendencies.

“I feel like we’ve always tried thinking that they were this big talented team,” Dodd said. “In the past, we’ve been caught and tried to play their own game, myself especially. We kind of need to shift away from that and just try to play our own game.”

Coach Adam Wright added that the physical nature of the sport makes it easy to get caught up in the emotions of the game.

“Water polo is a physical game,” Wright said. “There’s a lot of contact going on. It’s a game where it’s very easy to get wrapped up in the emotional side. We do a lot of work outside the pool as far as the mental training side and the sports psych side, and that’s something that’s going to be key for us.”

Since Wright became head coach in 2009, UCLA has gone 13-6 in the NCAA tournament, having won four national championships in that span, as well as back-to-back titles in 2014 and 2015.

Several players from the 2020 championship team still remain, providing experience that Wright believes will serve the current squad well.

“Those moments are important,” Wright said. “We’re going to find ourselves, without a doubt, in some challenging moments where our backs are against the wall, but we have a lot of experience on this team.”

The Bruins will open their tournament run against the winner of a quarterfinal matchup between their crosstown rivals and No. 8 Princeton (27-5, 10-0 NWPC), who defeated No. 15 Fordham (26-8, 16-0 MAWPC) in the first round of the tournament.

With the possibility of a fifth matchup of the season against the Trojans looming, Wright said UCLA needs to start the game with improved play after giving up eight first-half goals in the MPSF tournament semifinals.

“When you play somebody four times, it is difficult,” Wright said. “You can’t do that to a team like that. We did a good job fighting back, but the reality is we’re trying to hold teams to less than eight goals in the game, and that made it tough.”

Opening sprint for the semifinals is set at 4 p.m. on Saturday.

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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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