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UCLA men’s water polo is ready to bounce back, dive into NCAA championships

Redshirt senior utility Giorgio Alessandria swings his arm back while he holds the ball. Alessandria scored one goal the last time UCLA played against Biola. (Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin staff)

Men's water polo


Biola
Friday, 12 p.m.

Uytengsu Aquatics Center
NCAA.com
UC Irvine or Princeton
Saturday, 2 p.m.

Uytengsu Aquatics Center
NCAA.com
NCAA Championship
Sunday, 3 p.m.

Uytengsu Aquatics Center
NCAA.com

By Lamar Tuker

Nov. 30, 2023 3:09 p.m.

This post was updated Nov. 30 at 11:30 p.m.

The Bruins are heading into the NCAA championships with a wake-up call.

That’s according to Noah Rowe, at least.

“Now we have something to fight for,” the sophomore attacker said. “Being undefeated for a long time, you can kind of get caught ahead of yourself, and now we kind of got put in check.”

No. 1 seed UCLA men’s water polo (24-2, 7-0 MPSF) will compete against Biola (21-12, 4-0 WWPA) on Friday at Uytengsu Aquatics Center to launch the first round of the NCAA tournament. The upcoming match could either be a chance to break the Bruins’ dry spell or end their season on a skid.

Although the Eagles have lost six times the number of games as the Bruins, they managed a win in each game at the Western Water Polo Association Championships en route to an automatic bid for the big dance. Meanwhile, UCLA is heading into the NCAA tournament coming off back-to-back losses to USC and Stanford in the MPSF tournament.

Coach Adam Wright said the defeats taught the team what it means to be successful.

“For us, it was a really great lesson, what transpired a couple of weekends ago,” Wright said. “When you end up in a situation like that, there’s just so much to gain.”

The Bruins’ first win during their 2021 season was a 21-2 victory over the Eagles. Redshirt senior utility Giorgio Alessandria scored a goal during the first period of the game.

Although there are repeated faces from the programs’ last bout going into the first-round clash, the roster is now updated with newer members on board.

Alessandria said the team’s relationships have been strong, regardless of the gap in experience.

“We know how to easily build each other back up or just brush it off. We’re good, and (we) keep moving forward,” Alessandria said. “I think our chemistry is probably the best it’s been all year and in probably the four or five years I’ve been here.”

Alessandria, along with redshirt senior attacker Jack Larsen and redshirt sophomore center Eli Liechty, combined for six goals last time against the Eagles. Junior attacker Chase Dodd also netted two goals for the Bruins but won’t be participating this time around, as he’s training for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

The absence of players has been a regular occurrence for the Bruins this season, causing a variety of players to step up.

“We had so much adversity to deal with,” Wright said. “We had players who were redshirting for national teams. We had players who we thought were going to be back, and 10 days before we start, are not back. And we’ve had players injured throughout the course of the year.”

However, Wright added that it’s led the Bruins to push themselves further to secure a win and a chance at national championship No. 122.

“They’ve had great games where they’ve made it look easier than it was,” Wright said. “They’ve had games where they weren’t good and found a way to win. They’ve had games where their back was against the wall and played sudden death.”

If UCLA manages to defeat Biola, it will advance into the NCAA semifinals to face the victor of No. 4 seed UC Irvine versus Princeton on Saturday afternoon.

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