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No. 1 UCLA men’s water polo attacking duo leads by example

Redshirt senior attacker Jack Larsen holds the ball with his right hand (left). Senior attacker Rafael Real Vergara raises the ball with his right hand as he eyes the net. (Julia Zhou/Assistant Photo editor)

By Ava Abrishamchian

Oct. 25, 2023 11:31 a.m.

This post was updated Oct. 27 at 12:11 a.m.

Almost every great story has a dynamic duo.

Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. Tom Brady and Julian Edelman.

No. 1 UCLA men’s water polo has a pair of its own: attackers Jack Larsen and Rafael Real Vergara.

“This group has been resilient, and a big part of that comes through guys like Jack and Rafa showing by example every day here,” said coach Adam Wright. “(They) are emerging as guys that show the group, from an action standpoint, that the group can rely from a vocal standpoint.”

In an early season matchup against Pacific, Larsen, a redshirt senior, tallied eight goals to put him one away from the MPSF record, tying a game-high record in the Wright era of UCLA men’s water polo.

“Jack is having an incredible year,” Wright said. “The way he goes about doing his work is pretty special. … Jack has been with me for a long time, so it’s no surprise.”

Real Vergara had a similar performance in the squad’s recent game against UC Santa Barbara, failing to get off the mark for the first two periods and then emerging for a hat trick for the Bruins.

UCLA has maintained a 20-game undefeated streak and has remained No. 1 in the nation since Sept. 27. The roster’s broad range of experience has allowed for players such as freshman Ben Liechty to begin their collegiate careers and earn their first accolades of the season.

However, unexpected changes in the fall led to the absence of attacker Chase Dodd – a former All-MPSF selection – who took the year off to train for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

As the roster adjusted to the void created by Dodd’s leave and in-season injuries, Larsen said his trust in his teammates, especially Real Vergara, has been the foundation of their performances.

“Obviously, he’s extremely talented, but at the same time, what makes him really dangerous is his preparation,” Larsen said. “He’s coming in every day and he’s working hard, and it’s really special when you put talent and that together.”

Wright echoed the sentiments of his longtime attacker, adding that the new Bruin has seamlessly added depth and leadership to the team.

“He can create opportunities, and that’s pretty unique for a player,” Wright said. “He’s brought so much balance. … His passing abilities are special, and the reality too is he could be probably scoring a lot more every game, but he’s trying to work within the group, and that is putting us in a position to overall be successful.”

Water polo has built the bedrock of Real Vergara’s life. As the son of Leonardo Vergara Real, a Brazilian national team member and winner of the Campeonato Paulista, Brazil’s most prestigious water polo title – Real Vergara has spent his entire career surrounded by high-level competition.

Real Vergara began his collegiate years with international experience under his belt, having been named to the 2018 Brazilian Senior National Team. He arrived in Westwood after three years at Long Beach State, leading the Beach in goals in 2021 and 2022.

As the team continues on the road to a potential NCAA championship appearance, the Bruins are using each other to propel further, Real Vergara said.

He added that beyond his attacking partner, he’s confident in everything and each player the Bruins have to offer.

“I know that my teammates are going to be there to score the goal, and if they (opponents) go ahead, I know that I’ll be ready to do it,” Real Vergara said. “We have so many good players that we don’t need to look for the individual shots. We just know that the game will come.”

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