In their 88th matchup since 1975, the UC San Diego Tritons took down the Air Force Academy Falcons 14–9 at Canyonview Aquatic Center on Friday, Oct. 25. The Tritons and Falcons have plenty of history over the last half-century, including an upset win for the Falcons in the 2012 Western Water Polo Association Championship. While many of the coaches remember this match and the significance of this rivalry, much of that history is lost on the players.
“[The players] don’t listen to us [coaches],” 40-year head coach Denny Harper said before the game. “But from my perspective, there’s no question that this [matchup] is still considered a rivalry.”
But even without the boost of playing to avenge past losses, UCSD still dominated for much of the match. The Tritons featured a balanced attack on offense. The team netted either 3 or 4 goals in all four quarters of the match, with seven different players pitching in. Senior utility player Skyler Munatones led UCSD with 4 goals, with no other Triton scoring more than twice.
“That’s kind of been our deal this year, we’ve got a ton of guys who’ve scored over 20 to 25 goals,” Harper said after the game of his team’s balanced scoring. “I know when we’re playing against a team with balanced scoring it’s kind of hard to game plan for them because you’re not sure who’s going to be chipping in.”
The match began quickly, with UCSD scoring 2 goals in the first two and a half minutes of the first quarter. On the Tritons’ first possession of the match, senior team captain Cooper Milton scored, and just over a minute later, Munatores stole the ball and went on a fast break to score the second goal of the match.
Much of the rest of the first half was taken up by UCSD getting five-man stops. The Tritons committed 8 exclusions in the first half compared to Air Force’s 4. Despite the disadvantage, the Tritons did a great job of keeping the Falcons from capitalizing on their power-play chances, only allowing one power-play goal in what was a physical match.
Heading into the match, Harper pointed out his team’s defense as “a little bit of a concern,” but their performance against Air Force, especially in these five-man situations, lessened those worries. “Ultimately, I thought that the defense was great because we didn’t give up that many goals, especially in the first half,” Harper said postgame.
The Tritons led by 6 goals for much of the match, only faltering once, redshirt senior goalkeeper Jack Turner was removed from the match with under 2 minutes to go. Turner, a member of Team USA at the World University Games this past summer, made 6 big saves in the win, with 2 of the 7 goals he allowed coming via penalty shot.
With 11 straight wins, UCSD, now 6–0 in the WWPA, will travel to California State University, Long Beach on Wednesday, Oct. 30 before going into the heavily anticipated Nov. 9 matchup with the UC Davis at Canyonview Aquatic Center.
Photo by Tanya Bharatula.