Big Upset Wonderful Parting Gift For UCSD

    With an unprecedented 9-8 victory over the University of Southern California in the NCAA men’s water polo semifinals, the Tritons advanced to the championship game at Pepperdine University last month, only to be devastated by seven-time champions UCLA in an 11-2 loss.

    David Pilz
    Guardian

    Despite suffering such a great defeat in the finals, the Tritons can be proud of their underdog overthrow of second-seed USC in the semifinals.

    Despite being seeded ninth in the nation coming into the tournament, the Tritons defied history to make not only their first appearance in the final game, but the first appearance by any Western Water Polo Association school.

    Also, they defeated USC for the first time in 32 meetings between the two schools. In doing so, they became the 10th team to join an elite group of schools that have competed in the NCAA title game, entering a group of perennial elites that includes UCLA, Stanford, UC Berkeley and Pepperdine.

    The game against USC on Dec. 2 proved to be a nail-biter to the end. While the Tritons pulled ahead in the first quarter to lead 2-1 going into the second, USC responded to the Tritons’ third goal with two of their own as the second quarter came to a close, leaving the game tied 3-3 at halftime.

    UCSD and USC traded goals throughout the third quarter. While USC briefly took the lead 6-5 with 2:09 left in the third on Ivan Babic’s third goal, the Tritons quickly battled back. By the end of the third quarter, the Tritons had tied the game with a goal by Justin Wylie, then taken the lead with a four-meter penalty shot by Jason Boettner.

    However, USC refused to go down without a fight, and the fourth quarter continued the back-and-forth drama that characterized the match’s first three quarters.

    USC tied the game 7-7 with a goal early in the fourth, but UCSD took a decisive 9-7 lead with a goal by Brent Allan with about three minutes left to play. Seconds later though, USC’s Steven O’Rourke lobbed a shot into the goal to bring USC within one.

    The Tritons managed to hold onto the lead through the end of the game, with a breathtaking save by goalie Glenn Busch and by regaining possession of the ball with 11 seconds left, allowing them to run down the clock and capture a berth in the final game.

    The most notable performance in the USC game, which Triton coach Denny Harper described as “”David slaying Goliath,”” was that of Boettner, who led the team with a total of five goals. Four other Triton players, Allan, Vladimir Djapic, Kellan Hori and Wylie, contributed a goal each, while Triton goalkeeper Busch matched the seven saves of both USC goalies.

    However, 18-7 UCLA proved to be an insurmountable obstacle to an NCAA title for the Tritons the next day. The top seeded Bruins dominated in both offense and defense, scoring 11 goals and holding the Tritons to two.

    While the Tritons had marked their first win ever against USC the day before, UCLA proved to continue its streak against the Tritons, who have never defeated the Bruins in the water. While at the end of the first quarter UCLA’s 3-1 lead seemed surpassable, by the end of the third, an unchecked run of seven UCLA goals took the Bruins to a decisive lead, and UCSD’s fourth quarter goal only served to stop play in what proved to be a quarter of formality as UCLA ran down the clock on its way to the national title.

    Despite being scoreless in the finals however, Boettner was awarded a spot on the All-Tournament first team, the only Triton among six other UCLA and USC players. Djapic, Wylie and Jonathan Samuels were awarded spots on second team as the Tritons finished a phenomenal first season.

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