Visiting No. 7 Bruins upset No. 5 Tritons

    Rebecca Drexler/Guardian
    Blocked: UCSD goalkeeper Colin McElroy makes a save on a Bruin shot at the beginning of the game on Sept. 26. The No. 5 Tritons lost 5-3.

    Offenseless UCSD falls to UCLA, 5-3 Tritons remain winless against Bruins

    After attaining the fifth position in the NCAA national poll on Sept. 24, the UCSD men’s water polo team seemed more poised than ever to finally do what no Triton Polo squad has ever accomplished: bring UCLA to its knees.

    Rebecca Drexler/Guardian
    Big rivals: For the first time ever, UCSD men¹s water polo was ranked higher than UCLA but the Tritons, who seemed a bit tense, could not overcome the Bruins in a 5-3 loss before 1,802 fans at Canyonview Pool on Sept. 26.

    The Triton squad learned throughout the match, however, that without the crutch of offense, you can’t stand up on your own, much less be able to knock someone else down.

    Plagued by lackluster offensive play, the Tritons couldn’t make any dents in the armor of UCLA’s historical dominance, falling to the seventh-ranked Bruins 5-3 in front of 1,802 fans at Canyonview Pool on Sept. 26.

    The UCSD defense had double duty keeping the Tritons in the game, but, without any contributions to the scoreboard, couldn’t avoid a 5-1 deficit by the middle of the third period.

    From a team that has averaged 7.8 goals a game this season against ranked opponents, UCSD’s offensive output during the match was, at times, anemic. The Tritons drew 12 six-on-five man advantages throughout the match, only to capitalize on two of those attempts for a 16 percent success rate.

    “”Our offense tonight abandoned us,”” said UCSD head coach Denny Harper after the match. “”We were outdrawing the whole nation in ejections and when you only convert two man-ups the whole night, that’s what costs you the game.””

    Many times when the Tritons carried possession of the ball, the tempo of play was somewhat hesitant and tended to be more cautious and defensive, a situation that Harper felt was brought upon by the mindsets and pressures created by newfound success in the rankings.

    “”When the rankings were announced, that was, I think, when the tension began, and maybe some fear of failure caused us to not be as tentative in the offense,”” Harper said. “”We didn’t really attack; we didn’t play with a lot of reckless abandon like we usually do.””

    After a power play goal by UCLA’s Josh Hewko for a 2-0 lead early in the second period, the Triton offense awakened from its sluggish start. Drawing upon a six-on-five advantage near the UCLA goal with 2:20 left in the half, senior Matt Ellis flicked a quick lob to redshirt sophomore Chris Finegold at 2 meters. Finegold bolted loose from his defender, received the pass with ease, and fired the ball past the surprised UCLA goaltender to give UCSD its first tally on the scoreboard and cut the Bruin lead to 2-1.

    The spark of offensive intensity that could have torched UCLA’s momentum turned out instead to only be a flicker that was quickly extinguished before halftime. UCLA was awarded another power play on the very next possession and capitalized with 1:10 left for a 3-1 scoreline. With time running out, the Bruins drew yet another ejection at the UCSD end, and UCLA’s Tyler Kandel tossed a bounce shot into the left corner that left the Tritons and their screaming fans stunned and gave UCLA a slim, yet commanding 4-1 lead at the half.

    “”The gist of the second quarter was that our offense failed us; (UCLA) scored three and we couldn’t answer back, which never happens,”” Ellis said.

    Frustration continued to plague the UCSD players in the second half as the Bruin defense proved to be stifling at times, but bad luck also seemed to follow the Tritons in the water as some promising shots only amounted to a “”kerplunk”” as they bounced off of posts.

    In the third, junior Jonathan Hopkins countered a UCLA score with UCSD’s only other power play success, and the Tritons managed a couple of inspired charges late in the game, but could not take advantage of the offensive infusions provided by Hopkins and Steven Jendrusina’s goal with 1:12 left.

    “”Those late goals were big momentum changers, but when you start to rally and you can’t take advantage … the game could have been ours,”” junior Brandon Borso said.

    Despite the disparities on the offensive side of the pool, UCSD’s defensive efforts proved to be one of the lone bright spots of the evening. The Tritons succeeded in holding a Bruin squad that has scored plenty against other ranked opponents and gives scholarships, to only five goals in the match. When the defense wasn’t pressuring, sophomore netminder Colin McElroy was giving his all to deny UCLA, picking up eight saves in the match.

    The biggest disappointment of all was the one the players held against themselves for failing to pick up the historic victory over the Bruins. Many of the players felt that this was their best opportunity for the win. The postgame mood was a somber one among the squad as the dejected faces only echoed the sentiments of opportunity lost.

    “”We had the opportunity to beat a team we never beat,”” Ellis said, “”but we trashed it by losing to, what I thought, was a subpar UCLA team.””

    As the Tritons prepare for the upcoming NorCal tournament on Oct. 4 and 5, expect the team to rebound from the loss very quickly. However, when the new rankings are released on Oct. 1, don’t expect Ellis, Borso or any of the other players to pay close attention.

    “”If anything, this helps because there is a thin line between confidence and cockiness,”” Borso said. “”This gives us a reminder that we are beatable and must always play hard, no matter what some numbers say.””

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