Tritons look for upset in Final Four

    The UCSD men’s water polo team will try to shock the water polo world when it faces top-ranked Stanford University in the National Collegiate Athletic Association semi-finals at Loyola Marymount University on Dec. 7.

    Guardian file photo

    The Tritons, who finished the regular season with a record of 19-11, went undefeated in the Western Water Polo Association conference and earned an NCAA tournament berth last week by winning the conference tournament.

    “”I’m really fired up for this game,”” said senior goalie Lance Onken, who earned First-Team All-Western Water Polo Association honors this season. “”People don’t expect us to win, but I do.””

    Stanford’s roster includes two players from the U.S. national team, including Tony Azevedo, who was recently featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

    Though ranked No. 1 in the nation, the Cardinals bring a two-game losing streak into the contest against the Tritons. The two losses, which came in is Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament, dropped Stanford’s overall record to 22-5.

    “”Them losing two in a row bodes well for us,”” said junior utility player Matt Ellis. “”They’ve dropped two in a row in crunch time, and we just won our conference tournament. It’s the same formula for what happened for us against USC [in 2000]. They’re going to look right past us.””

    Matt Ellis may know a little more about the Cardinals than most. His older brother, Nick, is the Stanford goalie.

    “”For years, he’s been one of the best goalies around,”” Onken said of his Cardinal counterpart.

    Nick Ellis has allowed 6.3 goals per game this season for Stanford, but the goalie has given up 8.3 per game in the Cardinals’ last three games, two of which were losses.

    “”Frankly, he hasn’t played very well lately,”” Matt Ellis said of his older sibling.

    The Cardinals, who have been crowned NCAA champions nine times, got into the four-team tournament by getting the only at-large bid.

    “”There are no surprises when you play Stanford,”” Matt Ellis said. “”They’re going to get their offense from Azevedo and [Matt] Hudnut and expect the rest of their role players to play defense for the most part and get the ball to their scorers.””

    Azevedo led the Cardinals this season with 90 goals. The 6-foot-5-inch Hudnut was third on the team with 42. By comparison, UCSD’s two top scorers this season were Jonathan Hopkins and Clark Peterson, who had 62 and 33 goals, respectively.

    Stanford twice played and beat UCSD earlier this season by a combined score of 24-9.

    “”Between the two teams, myself and Clark [Peterson] are going to stay on Azevedo and try to slow him down,”” Matt Ellis said. “”If we can hold him to two goals or less, that will be good.””

    With their game plan, the Tritons do not seem discouraged or intimidated by Stanford.

    “”We’re well prepared,”” Onken said. “”Our coaches have done a great job. I’m excited to get up there and show what we can do. We’re the underdog, but I look at it as they have to beat us and prove that they’re better then us. I feel like we can play with these teams just like anybody else.””

    The NCAA Championship semifinal game starts on Dec. 7 at noon in Los Angeles. The championship and third-place games will be played on Dec. 8.

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