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World University Games elicit impactful performance from UCLA water polo freshmen

UCLA men’s water polo freshman utility Ben Liechty attempts a shot at the World University Games in Chengdu, China. (Courtesy of Chengdu 2021 Virtual Media Zone)

By Benjamin Royer

Aug. 14, 2023 11:30 a.m.

This post was updated Aug. 20 at 4:52 p.m.

Ben Liechty is just 17 years old.

The freshman utility recently graduated high school and has yet to play a collegiate minute for the Bruins.

However, for the past two weeks, the Orange County local has been a key component of the United States’ roster at the World University Games – a team fully represented by UCLA men’s water polo players and coaches.

“The experience helped a lot,” Liechty said.

That in-game action saw Liechty dive into the pool in Chengdu, China, for the WUG bronze medal contest against Georgia – a country that rostered its national team and featured players 10 years his senior. The Americans fell to the Georgians and finished in fourth place, but for coach Adam Wright, the impact of Liechty – and freshmen attacker Wade Sherlock and goalkeeper Nathan Tauscher – shone through.

“This was great for us to see them play at this level,” Wright said. “They all did a great job, and there’s no doubt that they’re going to make an impact here at UCLA.”

[Related: UCLA men’s water polo represents Team USA at World University Games]

Liechty – the younger brother of teammate redshirt sophomore center Eli Liechty and UC Irvine defender Jake Liechty – averaged more than a goal a game across the U.S.’ eight contests. This included two hat tricks against Hungary and Slovakia.

As one of three freshmen on the WUG squad, Ben Liechty looked to a fifth-year senior for guidance while playing over 7,000 miles away from Westwood.

“(Redshirt senior attacker) Jack Larsen was super helpful,” said Ben Liechty. “Taking a leadership role and showing us what to do, and how to do it, by example throughout the tournament.”

UCLA men's water polo freshman attacker Wade Sherlock carries the ball during the World University Games in Chengdu, China. (Courtesy of Chengdu 2021 Virtual Media Zone)
UCLA men’s water polo freshman attacker Wade Sherlock carries the ball during the World University Games in Chengdu, China. (Courtesy of Chengdu 2021 Virtual Media Zone)

Larsen said competing at the WUG is a difficult task for freshmen, especially due to the preparation that comes with facing international squads while simultaneously learning UCLA’s system.

He added that the circumstances allowed him to teach his teammates and help them prepare for the season ahead.

“I try to give them the tips and mentoring all I can, going through this process for multiple years and trying to help them out when I can,” Larsen said. “But at the end of the day, it just comes down to them and the effort they want to put into knowing how we play.”

Other veteran players also helped to guide the incoming crop of Bruins.

Tauscher was one of two goalkeepers and earned playing time alongside senior goalkeeper Garret Griggs, while Sherlock named redshirt senior utility Giorgio Alessandria as a player who helped him settle in with the team.

The Bruins will return to Spieker Aquatics Center in the weeks ahead and reunite with the rest of the team – American and international student-athletes alike – leading up to their Sept. 2 season opener.

Sherlock said he’s ready to start his collegiate career, setting high expectations for UCLA as the days trickle off the calendar.

“I’m just looking forward to be a part of this team and, hopefully, win in November for the NCAA championship,” Sherlock said.

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Benjamin Royer
Royer is the 2023-2024 Assistant Sports editor on the baseball, gymnastics and men's water polo beats and a reporter on the football beat. He was previously a staff writer on the baseball and gymnastics beats. He is also a fourth-year communication student.
Royer is the 2023-2024 Assistant Sports editor on the baseball, gymnastics and men's water polo beats and a reporter on the football beat. He was previously a staff writer on the baseball and gymnastics beats. He is also a fourth-year communication student.
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