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Falling to USC, UCLA men’s water polo loses chance at conference title

Redshirt freshman attacker Frederico Jucá Carsalade raises the ball with his right hand. Jucá Carsalade scored a career-high four goals in UCLA’s MPSF tournament semifinal loss against USC. (Julia Zhou/Assistant Photo editor)

Men's water polo

No. 7 seed USC13
No. 1 seed UCLA9

By Kai Dizon

Nov. 19, 2023 10:26 a.m.

Deja vu is the feeling of having already experienced the present situation.

In 2022, UCLA defeated USC in double overtime to conclude its regular season. It then beat Washington & Jefferson, scoring 25 goals, in the first round of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament. But USC sent UCLA packing in the semifinals.

Just last week, the Bruins defeated the Trojans in double overtime to conclude their undefeated regular season. UCLA defeated Washington & Jefferson on Friday, scoring 25 goals in the first round of the MPSF tournament.

And Saturday, history would continue to repeat itself for the Bruins.

The first blemish on the Bruins’ record and their elimination from conference title contention came at the hands of their crosstown foe. No. 1 seed UCLA men’s water polo (24-1, 7-0 MPSF) fell to No. 7 seed USC (14-6, 1-5) in the MPSF championship semifinals 13-9. UCLA will now turn to face No. 5 seed Stanford in the third-place game at UC Berkeley’s Spieker Aquatics Complex on Sunday morning.

“From an intensity standpoint, we just weren’t where we needed to be,” coach Adam Wright said. “We did not set the tone with energy, … we were off the mark.”

Just as they did in 2022, the Trojans opened the game with two consecutive goals and never looked back. USC, a team that UCLA had beaten three times during the regular season, led 8-4 at the half, outshooting the Bruins 20-9.

Senior goalkeeper Garret Griggs, who held the Trojans to just two goals Oct. 14, said he did not attribute the loss to an improved USC squad, instead turning the focus toward his own team.

“They really did the same stuff they normally do,” Griggs said. “We just didn’t do what we were supposed to do. … Our communication was a little lackluster and in general, we seemed kind of nervous.”

Though it would prove too little too late, UCLA’s offense emerged near the end of the game. In the last two minutes of the fourth period, the Bruins scored three goals, including senior attacker Rafael Real Vergara’s third of the game – completing his hat trick – and redshirt freshman attacker Frederico Jucá Carsalade’s fourth of the game.

That goal would set a single-game career-high for Jucá Carsalade, who said the milestone was irrelevant.

“For me, there’s no personal success,” Jucá Carsalade said. “Stats or goals don’t matter if you don’t win at the end of the day.”

Outside of Real Vergara, staples of the offense such as freshman utility Ben Liechty, redshirt senior attacker Jack Larsen and freshman attacker Wade Sherlock, who rank second, third and fourth on the team in goals, respectively, were unable to score, only attempting a combined four shots.

Wright said the message after the loss is rather clear.

“We need a moment like this, … it’s a great opportunity to grow,” Wright said. “Now whether we choose to do that or not, it’s up to us. But … if we do that, this was the greatest thing for us.”

For Sunday’s game, which will be UCLA’s last before the upcoming NCAA Tournament, Wright said he is looking for his team to fall back on what has gotten them to this point.

“Great defense,” Wright said. “Channeling our energy toward defense (and) getting shots blocked.”

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Kai Dizon
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