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UCLA men’s water polo blows USC out of water in 18th straight win

Freshman center Marcell Szécsi holds his arm up in the air to block a UCLA men’s water polo opponent’s shot. (Julia Zhou/Assistant Photo editor)

Men's water polo

No. 4 USC2
No. 1 UCLA11

By Amelie Ionescu

Oct. 15, 2023 1:12 p.m.

Statistics can tell a story.

But the scoreboard isn’t enough to encapsulate Saturday’s crosstown showdown.

In its best defensive game of the season, No. 1 UCLA men’s water polo (18-0, 4-0 MPSF) held No. 4 USC (10-5, 0-4) to two goals on 26 attempts to win 11-2, scoring 42.3% of its shots on the same amount of attempts. The margin is the largest between the two teams since 1976 and the first time the Bruins have halted the Trojans’ scoring to two or fewer since 1973.

“We were able to make a statement tonight,” said senior attacker Rafael Real Vergara.

After starting off the season ranked behind both California and USC, UCLA has spent the last few weeks emerging from its shell, snatching the slot at the top of the rankings and never looking back as it continued its ongoing undefeated run.

Coach Adam Wright credited the hardship the team has experienced so far as a key component in the Bruins’ continued success.

“There’s no doubt part of the reason this group has grown quickly is we’ve had to go through a lot of adversity,” Wright said. “They just haven’t budged with that and provided opportunities as well to maybe some guys that wouldn’t have gotten as much time. So what we’re seeing is now we’re building depth, we’re building a lot more trust amongst the group.”

Six different Bruins dented the twine at Spieker Aquatics Center throughout the contest, with Real Vergara – a Long Beach State transfer – and freshman attacker Wade Sherlock both earning themselves hat tricks.

Real Vergara went on to secure three assists for a six-point finish.

“I don’t have to keep looking for the game,” the Brazilian said. “The game just comes to me slowly. I think we played for each other.”

Entering the match with an aggressive defense of their own, the Trojans attempted to lock in on Real Vergara – who scored half of the Bruins’ 14 goals in the last matchup between the MPSF West rivals.

Nevertheless, Real Vergara said he wasn’t worried about the added pressure, and when he was targeted in the pool, he instead turned to his teammates.

“Today they were very on me, so I was able to give some passes,” he said. “Our team just creates opportunities.”

Freshman Marcell Szécsi – the other Bruin to score multiple goals – put UCLA on the board in the first quarter with a shot two meters from the net.

The center said the Bruins’ mentality on defense is integral to their success on offense.

“I always tell the boys before games that we have to focus on D (defense) more, because if you focus on the defense, the offense will come on its own,” Szécsi said. “Get the defense great, everything’s gonna work out for us.”

The Hungarian added that his team has been integral to his success in transitioning to the United States and collegiate life.

With only five games left in their regular season – including one more against the Trojans – the Bruins will take arguably their most efficient contest in recent history and look to improve where they can.

The sky isn’t even the limit, Wright said.

“This group can get a lot better, a lot better, and we just can’t be satisfied with where we’re at,” the 15-year coach stated. “We have got to remember how we got to this point. And, really, we got to triple down.”

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Amelie Ionescu | Assistant Sports editor
Ionescu is currently an assistant Sports editor on the men's volleyball, women's volleyball, swim and dive and rowing beats. She was previously a contributor on the women's tennis beat.
Ionescu is currently an assistant Sports editor on the men's volleyball, women's volleyball, swim and dive and rowing beats. She was previously a contributor on the women's tennis beat.
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