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Brazilian Bruins jump-start UCLA men’s water polo’s 3-win weekend

Senior attacker Rafael Real Vergara winds back to attempt a shot against No. 6 Stanford at Spieker Aquatics Center on Saturday. (Julia Zhou/Assistant Photo editor)

Men's water polo

No. 6 Stanford9
No. 3 UCLA11
No. 3 UCLA14
No. 12 UC San Diego7
No. 3 UCLA21
Cal Lutheran6

By Benjamin Royer

Sept. 11, 2023 2:49 p.m.

There’s an unspoken chemistry in the pool between attackers Frederico Jucá Carsalade and Rafael Real Vergara.

The redshirt freshman and senior are Brazilian, have known each other since youth and appeared Saturday in their first home contest at Spieker Aquatics Center.

For Jucá Carsalade, who his teammates call “Tico,” it was a yearlong wait after he redshirted his first season in Westwood. Real Vergara, or “Rafi” as his fellow Bruins cheered from the bench, transferred from Long Beach State after he won Gold Coast Conference Player of the Year twice in three years.

To kick off MPSF play and its home slate, No. 3 UCLA men’s water polo (7-0, 1-0 MPSF), “Tico” and “Rafi” led the way with a combined six goals and four assists to knock off No. 6 Stanford (4-2, 0-1 MPSF) on Saturday afternoon 11-9.

“I’m happy that I already had a really close friend on the team,” Real Vergara said. “Our dads played together. I played together with his brother, and now I’m playing with him. It’s such a big pleasure. I cannot even explain how I’m feeling right now.”

UCLA continued its winning ways Sunday, defeating No. 12 UC San Diego (5-3) and Cal Lutheran (1-6) at the Inland Empire Classic in Redlands, California, claiming 14-7 and 21-6 victories against the Tritons and Kingsmen, respectively.

Against the Cardinal, the Bruins trailed by a goal heading into the fourth period but pulled away with six minutes left in the contest, scoring five consecutive goals to ice the contest.

Jucá Carsalade, who missed a penalty for UCLA’s first shot of the contest, fired back in the third period – scoring two goals to tie the game for the first time at five apiece.

Redshirt freshman attacker Frederico Jucá Carsalade holds the ball up during an attack against No. 6 Stanford at Spieker Aquatics Center on Saturday. (Julia Zhou/Assistant Photo editor)
Redshirt freshman attacker Frederico Jucá Carsalade holds the ball up during an attack against No. 6 Stanford at Spieker Aquatics Center on Saturday. (Julia Zhou/Assistant Photo editor)

He said the team’s belief in winning helped him and the Bruins battle back after trailing by one at halftime.

“It’s all about confidence,” Jucá Carsalade said. “It doesn’t matter if you miss a shot, if you miss a penalty – you’re always on to the next. … My confidence, it’s always up. I trust my teammates. I know they trust me as well. And having their trust is really important to get back.”

UCLA’s journey to victory, however, was stunted by Stanford’s response to each Bruin goal.

Despite senior goalkeeper Garret Griggs holding the Cardinal to three goals at the half, Real Vergara and redshirt sophomore center Eli Liechty could only muster up a goal each – the Bruins’ only two goals in the first and second periods, respectively.

Even after Jucá Carsalade and Real Vergara knotted the game at five and six in the third period, the Cardinal inserted itself back onto the scoresheet with two goals moments later and placed the visitors ahead 7-6 heading into the fourth.

But the Bruins stormed back, using their 5-0 fourth-period run to defeat the Cardinal.

Coach Adam Wright said UCLA has to focus on getting out to a better start so it won’t have to play from behind late in games.

“We’ve always been a team that can dig in and try to find ways, but it always starts with our defense, and you’d like to see that initially right from the first possession,” Wright said. “But it’s a sign of a good team when you’re not at your best. To still find a way to win is a pretty special quality.”

And Sunday, the Bruins followed their coach’s lead.

UCLA stormed out to a 3-1 lead against UCSD and only pushed forward from there, defeating the Tritons on the back of hat tricks from the Brazilian duo – with Jucá Carsalade achieving the feat for the first time in his career.

In the final contest of the weekend, Cal Lutheran played with little threat to UCLA, with the Bruins never trailing against the Kingsmen – earning their second-largest and seventh consecutive victory of the campaign.

Jucá Carsalade said that as a second-generation Bruin – as his father, Fernando, and uncle, Marcelo, represented UCLA men’s water polo in the 1980s – he was elated to appear and score in his first collegiate games.

“Forty years after my dad was here, so I’m really proud now,” Jucá Carsalade said. “I hope he’s proud, too, watching – but it’s a great feeling.”

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Benjamin Royer
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