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UCLA men’s water polo bests Princeton, extends winning streak to 19 games

Freshman utility Ben Liechty winds back his arm to shoot. (Julia Zhou/Assistant Photo editor)

Men's water polo

No. 6 Princeton10
No. 1 UCLA12

By Lamar Tuker

Oct. 19, 2023 12:36 p.m.

The Ben’s blitzed the Tigers.

Utilities redshirt freshman Ben Larsen and freshman Ben Liechty’s five-combined goals helped create the distance to avoid a late-night upset at Spieker Aquatics Center.

No. 1 UCLA men’s water polo (19-0, 4-0 MPSF) managed to hold off a surging No. 6 Princeton (18-3, 5-0 NWPC) by a score of 12-10 on Wednesday night, extending its winning streak to 19 games, tied for the fifth-longest streak in program history. The Tigers were tied with the Bruins heading into halftime, but Liechty’s game-winning goal in the fourth period pushed UCLA ahead with just under five minutes remaining, a lead it would hold till the clock ran out.

“They played hard and that’s what we need,” coach Adam Wright said. “If we don’t think we’re going to see everybody’s best shot, we’re severely mistaken.”

The Bruins had to deal with a familiar threat with Princeton coach Dustin Litvak, who was an assistant for UCLA’s men’s and women’s water polo from 2013 to 2017.

Wright said Litvak has done an impressive job with his team.

“We’re happy for him,” Wright said. “Dusty was here at UCLA for a good period of time with us and we love to see that his program is being successful.”

Despite the victory, the game did not start in the Bruins’ favor.

Princeton scored the first two goals to grab an early lead, but the Tigers’ advantage was soon squashed by Larsen, who equaled the score at two. Larsen then followed his goal with an assist to freshman attacker Wade Sherlock before scoring a buzzer beater to end the first period.

Wright said Larsen’s constant improvement both offensively and defensively is a result of his hard work.

“He continues to develop, and his role is growing from week to week,” Wright said.

But just when UCLA secured a lead in the second period, Princeton countered Larsen’s buzzer beater with one of its own. The push and pull between the Bruins and Tigers dragged into the third period until senior attacker Makoto Kenney scored his second goal to give the Bruins the lead. Liechty followed suit, widening the gap to 9-7.

Ben Larsen’s older brother and redshirt senior attacker, Jack Larsen did not score during the game, finishing scoreless for the second time this season.

“Somebody else has got to step up, and his (Jack Larsen’s) brother (Ben Larsen) did it tonight,” Wright said.

Liechty shared a similar sentiment about his teammate whom he shares a name with.

“He (Ben Larsen) played super well. It really helped our team offensively and defensively,” Liechty said.

Liechty’s game winner scored UCLA the lead after Princeton knotted the score at nine. Senior attacker Rafael Real Vergara rounded out the contest with the Bruins’ final goal of the game to help UCLA win by two.

With UCLA set to continue its homestand Friday against No. 10 UC Santa Barbara, Ben Larsen said the team is preparing for another challenge.

“Santa Barbara is going to come out playing their hardest game,” Ben Larsen said. “We’re just going to focus on tomorrow (Thursday) and Friday on that.”

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Lamar Tuker
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