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In season-opening scoring storm, UCLA men’s water polo sweeps Triton Invitational

Senior attacker Hayden Nightingale carries the ball during a game in 2022. (Anya Yakimenko/Daily Bruin staff)

Men's water polo

No. 3 UCLA12
No. 7 UC Santa Barbara8
No. 3 UCLA18
Cal State Fullerton6
No. 3 UCLA21
No. 10 UC Irvine15
No. 3 UCLA29
Concordia University Irvine3

By Ava Abrishamchian

Sept. 4, 2023 3:06 p.m.

Correction: The original version of this article’s info box incorrectly stated that the score of UCLA’s game against Cal State Fullerton was 6-18. In fact, the score was 18-6.

This post was updated Sept. 5 at 12:04 a.m.

The Bruins began their 2023 campaign with a sweep of the Triton Invitational.

No. 3 UCLA men’s water polo (4-0) blitzed the invitational tournament in San Diego on Saturday and Sunday, defeating four Southern California-based programs to start its non-MPSF slate undefeated. The Bruins saw a strong performance all weekend long, winning two of their contests by double digits and eclipsing the 20-goal mark twice.

UCLA embarked on its season against No. 7 UC Santa Barbara (1-3) in a back-and-forth matchup that eventually went UCLA’s way by a score of 12-8 – the closest game the Bruins would play over the weekend. Coach Adam Wright said despite taking home the win, there were some moments the squad felt it could have produced more.

“They tested us and pushed us, … but there’s a lot of great lessons from those games that we’re going to need to improve on,” Wright said. “Our five-on-six has to be a lot better. Our defensive awareness has to be better.”

Long Beach State transfer and senior attacker Rafael Real Vergara led the way in scoring against the Gauchos with a hat trick in his first match as a Bruin.

UCLA continued the tournament against Cal State Fullerton (1-3) on Saturday afternoon. Despite the Titans tying the score at two early in the first period, the Bruins took the lead and notched seven goals to end the frame. UCLA did not let up from there and defeated Fullerton 18-6.

The Bruins had 12 different scorers against the Titans, with freshmen utility Ben Liechty, center Marcell Szécsi and attacker Wade Sherlock scoring a combined seven goals. Senior attacker Hayden Nightingale, who scored one goal in the affair, said he was proud of the rookies’ performances.

“It’s a great group of guys who are very mature for their age,” Nightingale said. “They’re learning our system really quickly, and they’re doing a great job … in terms of overall goals this weekend.”

UCLA capped off the weekend with two 20-goal performances against No. 10 UC Irvine (2-2) and Concordia University Irvine (0-4), with the latter contest finishing in historic fashion.

After taking down the Anteaters 21-15 on Sunday morning, the Bruins dove back into the pool in the afternoon and bulldozed the Eagles 29-3 – the most goals UCLA had scored in a match since 2005. Wright said he believes this weekend’s attacking performance was a testament to the Bruins’ balance.

“It’s always been important to have balance in our attack,” Wright said. “We never want to have to rely on one or two players, so having that balance is going to be really important throughout the year.”

UCLA had 12 different players reach the goal against CUI, including redshirt senior attacker Jack Larsen, who scored in all four matches.

As the Bruins look forward into the season, Larsen said they are hoping to further their established chemistry to go all the way.

“We are just going to continue to work hard and continue to build relationships,” Larsen said. “It’s honestly just like playing with a bunch of your best friends, so it was a really fun tournament and a great way to open up this season.”

UCLA will return to Spieker Aquatics Center on Saturday to start MPSF action against No. 4 Stanford.

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Ava Abrishamchian
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