Despite a strong and valiant effort, the No. 6 UCSD men’s water polo team failed to keep up at Canyonview Pool during this past weekend’s National Collegiate Men’s Water Polo Championships. The Tritons fell 15–6 to first-seeded No. 2 UCLA in the semifinals on Saturday and lost to second-seeded No. 1 Stanford 20–11 on Sunday in the third-place match.
UCSD concludes its 2014 campaign with a 16–11 overall record and, in spite of this weekend’s losing effort, caps off a season full of improbable success.
“The outcome of these last two games is nothing to take away from the season that we’ve had and the careers that we’ve had at UCSD,” senior utility Josh Stiling said. “Making it this far was the cherry on top to one of the best periods of my life. I’m just glad that I got to share it with some of my best friends and a great coach.”
Saturday afternoon’s semifinals matchup opened up as a tight battle. While the Bruins took an early lead on the first possession of the game, the Tritons fired back with a goal from senior 2M Joe Dietrich. UCLA would score one more to take a narrow 2–1 edge by the end of the first quarter.
Both squads remained neck-and-neck early on in the second frame, until UCLA finally broke loose halfway through the period.
After the Bruins netted an early score in the quarter, Stiling responded for the Tritons with a goal to maintain a reachable 3–2 score. However, after a strong showing from both defenses, UCLA went on a 5–1 run in the final minutes of the half to stifle any realistic hopes of a Triton victory.
“We would make a move to counter [UCLA], and then the very next possession, they would answer right back,” Dietrich said. “Maybe if we got some timely stops after that, it could have been a different game. Ultimately, we went out and executed what we could. They’re just a really good team.”
Leading by a 8–3 score entering the final two quarters, the Bruins cruised to the championship final. UCSD would score three goals in the second half to UCLA’s seven. Dietrich would finish as the Tritons’ top scorer with a pair of goals, while senior goalkeeper Cameron Ravanbach recorded eight saves in the losing effort.
“I thought that we actually executed a darn good game plan, but at the end of the day, UCLA is too strong and too deep,” UCSD head coach Denny Harper said. “There’s a reason why they went undefeated in [Mountain Pacific Sports Federation] play.”
During Sunday’s third-place match against second-seeded No. 1 Stanford, another late first-half push overwhelmed the Tritons.
UCSD managed to keep up with the Cardinal in the opening stretch of play as goals from Stiling and Dietrich put the score at 4–2 after one quarter. The Tritons did cut the deficit to a 5–4 score in the early minutes of the second frame, but similar to the Bruins’ efforts, Stanford broke free with a 5–1 run to conclude the half at a 10–5 score.
The Cardinal piled on the lead with five more goals in the third quarter, while UCSD could only muster one score from Stiling. The final frame on the Tritons’ year was a high-scoring affair, as both squads scored five apiece to conclude the match at a 20–11 tally.
Dietrich and Stiling both found the back of the net four times, while Ravanbach recorded only four saves against the Cardinal’s high-powered offense. Stanford’s junior Bret Bonanni finished with an amazing, game-high eight goals.
Following the third-place match, top-seeded No. 1 UCLA went on to take the national title against third-seeded No. 3 USC in an intense 9–8 thriller. The UCLA win shattered a six-year streak of Trojan NCAAs titles.
After an impressive 2014 season, the Tritons will lose a strong class of eight seniors in Luca De Vivo, Dietrich, David Higginson, Dan Lorch, Matt Michalko, Ravanbach, Stiling and Lukas Syka, each of whom paved the way to UCSD’s home pool NCAAs Final Four appearance.
“We have a great program,” Harper said. “The culture in our program is great. Great players help perpetuate that. It isn’t just the coaching staff. These eight seniors that we’ve had, though, raised the level of accountability and responsibility in this program. They’ve set the table for even greater things.”