Triton Playoff Fever!

    Men’s water polo has endured 24 games this year. All its trials and tribulations — from beating then-No. 1-ranked Cal to its disappointing performance at the Northern California Tournament at Stockton — will be for naught if it does not perform well this weekend at the Western Water Polo Association Championships in Honolulu.

    Lyon Liew/
    Guardian

    The winner of the tournament will get an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament, held Dec. 2 and 3 in Malibu, and a chance to play in the national championship.

    Coached by Denny Harper, the Tritons started off the season on an incredible tear, winning 15 of their first 18 games and attaining a ranking as high as fifth in the nation. Since then, the team has been in a mini-slump, losing five of its last seven games, but is still ranked eighth in the nation.

    The Tritons are not losing to just anybody, as all of their losses have come against excellent teams. They have fallen to CSU Long Beach twice, and to Cal, UC Irvine and Pepperdine once. These teams are in the top 10 nationally.

    What made the Tritons so successful earlier in the season was their ability to jump on teams quickly. By aggressively taking an early lead, the Tritons put other teams on their heels and from there they let their stellar defense take over.

    In their mini-slump, they have been falling behind early and have been going into the late quarters at a three or four goal deficit. The Tritons then play the teams shot-for-shot, or even outplay them, but their efforts are to no avail, as such a big lead is usually too large to surmount.

    Why are opposing teams getting out and ahead so early? The Tritons have been making few mental mistakes. They have not been getting back on the counterattack and have been letting their opponents roam freely. These mistakes were not made earlier in the year when they were beating the best teams in the nation. If the Tritons want to compete at the NCAA tournament, they will have to stop making those mistakes now.

    Many players led the Tritons to the WWPA tournament, Jonathan Samuels first and foremost. He has been an intimidating presence for the Tritons all season long and gives other teams something to worry about. Samuels leads the team with 46 goals and has been solid all year long. If he has a good tournament, the Tritons are likely to follow.

    Jason Boettner has been a great distributor and defensive presence for UCSD. During the regular season, he dished out 23 assists and recorded 26 steals, tops on the team.

    Vladimir Djopic has been a great asset for the Tritons, as he has become a versatile utility man. In the pool he is able to go inside or outside with equal effectiveness.

    Important in the tournament is the performance of goalie Glenn Busch. So far, he has had a very good year, but he will have to be at the top of his game in Honolulu to help the Tritons make it through.

    Most vital to the Tritons is that they play as a team in the tournament. Harper has repeatedly stressed this point during the season. Each part of the team must work together in order for UCSD play up to its potential.

    Eight teams from the 12-team WWPA will compete at the Honolulu tournament.

    The Tritons are the highest-ranked team in the WWPA and are favorites going into the tournament. Nevertheless, competition in Honolulu will be tough. For example, the U.S. Air Force Academy, despite its rank, always fights hard for the win, and may be a tough match for the Tritons.

    If the Tritons win the tournament, they will then move on to the four-team NCAA tournament. The competition will consist of the winner of the WWPA, the Eastern Conference and the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. The last spot is an at-large berth, which is likely to go to an MPSF team, as that division fields multiple top 10 teams such as Cal, UC Irvine and USC.

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