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UCLA men’s water polo concludes regular season undefeated with victory over USC

Redshirt freshman utility Ben Larsen holds the ball in the air at Uytengsu Aquatics Center on Saturday. (Juliet Zhang/Daily Bruin)

Men's water polo


No. 1 UCLA10
No. 3 USC8

By Ava Abrishamchian

Nov. 12, 2023 4:44 p.m.

This post was updated Nov 12 at 10:28 p.m. 

The Bruins ended their regular season undefeated for the first time since 2015.

However, the finish was not as clean-cut as the Bruins had hoped, said coach Adam Wright.

“We just weren’t ready at the start of the game,” Wright said. “We were sloppy. We didn’t take care of the ball. We were throwing passes all over the place and not getting shots off.”

But after tying the game up with six seconds left in regulation, No. 1 UCLA men’s water polo (23-0, 6-0 MPSF) brought home the win against crosstown rival No. 3 USC (12-6, 1-5 MPSF) on Saturday afternoon at Uytengsu Aquatics Center, defeating the Trojans 10-8 in double overtime. The Bruins’ third contest between the programs this season added to their overall all-time lead over the Trojans 97-90-1.

Senior attacker Rafael Real Vergara rears back his right arm as he holds the ball in the air at Uytengsu Aquatics Center on Saturday. (Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)
Senior attacker Rafael Real Vergara rears back his right arm as he holds the ball in the air at Uytengsu Aquatics Center on Saturday. (Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Senior attacker Rafael Real Vergara led UCLA with five goals on his return from competing for Brazil at the Pan American Games. His fifth and final score was the game-tying goal to take the game to overtime.

To begin the game, however, UCLA was shut out in the first period, with the Bruins unable to reach the back of the net from the start.

Redshirt senior attacker Jack Larsen and Real Vergara got UCLA on the scoreboard in the second stanza with their first goals of the game. However, it was not enough to take the lead, falling behind 4-2 to USC at halftime.

Real Vergara said the Bruins’ first-half performance was a result of a lack of detail in their level of play.

“We were rushing on offense. We were missing easy passes. We were not getting rebounds on defense,” Real Vergara said. “When you miss one little thing every time you go to defense, it shows on the score.”

The UCLA that entered the second half was almost unrecognizable to the squad of the first. Freshman attacker Wade Sherlock and senior attacker Makoto Kenney notched goals alongside three from Real Vergara in the third period, and the defense held the Trojans to just two goals.

This gave the Bruins their first lead of the game heading into the fourth period. Up by just one goal, UCLA maintained the score up until back-to-back goals by USC gave the Trojans a slight edge with moments left in the game.

With the Bruins behind, it was Real Vergara who was able to save UCLA from its first loss, finding the net with six seconds left in the frame.

With twenty seconds left in the first overtime period, redshirt freshman utility Ben Larsen notched the game-winning goal to put UCLA up 9-8.

The redshirt sophomore said the credit should be given to his teammate, Kenney, who assisted the goal amid a six-point performance.

Senior attacker Makoro Kenney aims towards the net as a USC defender lunges at him at Uytengsu Aquatics Center on Saturday. (Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)
Senior attacker Makoto Kenney aims toward the net as a USC defender lunges at him at Uytengsu Aquatics Center on Saturday. (Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

“I’m just thinking about where I have to be,” Larsen said. “Mo (Makoto) is an insane passer, so I just really had to put myself in a good position, and he would do the rest.”

Larsen said the team anticipated a target on its back in its first away game in a month, but ultimately it stuck to its philosophy to secure the 10-8 victory.

“Every team wants to come after us,” Larsen said. “Because we still haven’t lost, but I just keep it one game at a time.”

Despite the shaky start, the Bruins etched a mark in their win column for the 23rd time this season.

For Wright, the win was not a measure of how well the Bruins will perform in the future as they head into the MPSF tournament Friday.

“It’s not about a record,” Wright said. “It’s about growing each day and growing each week and growing weekend to weekend, and we still got a good amount of room to grow, … that’s the exciting part.”

Email Abrishamchian at [email protected]

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Ava Abrishamchian
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