Tritons place sixth at NorCal Tourney

    Head coach Denny Harper and his Triton men’s water polo squad have discovered a formidable adversary and a potential rival in No. 10 UC Santa Barbara this season. Following the University of Pacific-hosted NorCal Tournament at Chris Kjeldsen Pool in Stockton, Calif., on Oct. 2 and Oct. 3, No. 6 UCSD played the Gauchos through three one-point matches and earned a 1-2 record against them, while still maintaining a higher ranking in the Men’s National Collegiate Top-20 Poll.

    The Tritons entered their final nonconference tournament of the 2004 season with a 14-4 record as the team squared off against No. 7 St. Francis on the morning of Oct. 2. Though these teams have not yet met this season, UCSD dismissed the Terriers from New York handily, dishing out a 10-6 victory and extending the Tritons’ season-high winning streak to eight games.

    Freshman two-meter man Simon Schafer led the charge for UCSD, rounding up a hat trick, while junior two-meter man Matthew Budnick and freshman driver Adnan Jerkovic notched two apiece to help lead their team. Senior driver Nate Cooper, junior driver Chris Eichholz and junior two-meter man Chris Finegold completed the Triton scoring drive to secure the victory.

    The road stopped there for UCSD, however, who faced the No. 1 Stanford Cardinal in the second game of the day. Despite an eight-goal effort by the Tritons’ offense and junior goalie Bryan Corbett’s six saves, the Cardinal ran away with the game, 14-8.

    The Tritons distributed their momentum across the tank, enabling sophomore utilities Joe Woodring and Jesse Casellini and Jerkovic to score twice apiece. Eichholz and Schafer were held to one goal each in the contest.

    “Stanford went up on us early,” Woodring said. “They had a 6-0 lead [after the first quarter], so Denny was trying some different combinations with the bench. He took out Eichholz and Finegold, which is where we usually direct the ball, so the rest of the guys were taking more shots.”

    On Oct. 3, the Tritons started the back half of the tournament with a narrow match against No. 7 Loyola Marymount. In recent years, the Western Water Polo Association Championship has been a hotly contested rivalry between UCSD and the Lions; however, in light of taking heavy losses from last season’s graduating seniors, Loyola Marymount is not expected to return to the championship bracket at this year’s tournament. Somebody apparently neglected to inform the Lions team of this.

    Loyola Marymount struck first, shutting out the Tritons 1-0 in the first period. The Tritons responded, playing intense defense and mounting an unstoppable scoring drive to win the second quarter 5-0.

    “We were calling the second quarter against LMU the best quarter of water polo that we’ve ever played,” Woodring said. “We were making crisp passes, clean shots, our counterattack was working and our defense was stopping everything that [Loyola Marymount] could bring.”

    The Lions would win every other period in the match, with a close 3-2 third frame and a 3-1 score in the fourth, but they still came up short as the Tritons took the match, 8-7.

    Eichholz led the charge for the UCSD with an impressive four goals. He was complemented by Budnick, Jerkovic, Casellini and freshman driver Curtis Williamson, each with one. Junior goalie Colin McElroy racked up 13 saves in the cage for the Tritons, securing the win.

    UCSD’s final game of the tournament mirrored that of the Loyola Marymount game, but was settled out of UCSD’s favor. The Gauchos rallied early in the first quarter for an early 3-2 lead. This margin turned out to be the deciding factor in the match, as the Tritons went toe-to-toe with UC Santa Barbara for the next three quarters, without either team gaining significant advantage. After each team scored twice in the second quarter, the Gauchos went into the half with a 5-4 lead. UCSD wouldn’t be able to stage the comeback it needed for the fifth-place tournament finish as the Gauchos took the match, 8-7.

    Scoring for the Tritons were Cooper, Eichholz, Finegold, Williamson and freshman driver Nathan Weiner.

    “Apparently, Denny has only won [at UC Santa Barbara] twice,” Wooodring said. “And they are a team that has been playing really strong this season. They beat Loyola Marymount and UC Irvine at the NorCal Tournament — both of those teams were ranked higher than UC Santa Barbara last week, so with all of their wins, they should have moved up considerably in the national rankings. [The Oct. 7 match at UC Santa Barbara] will be big for us.”

    The Tritons were downed by the Gauchos at the Triton Invitational on Sept. 5 in a 5-4 showdown, demonstrating that UC Santa Barbara had an early-season advantage. On Sept. 19 at the University of Southern California Tournament, UCSD turned the tables with a 7-6 victory to level the playing field. With the loss at the NorCal Tournament, it’s easy to question the ability of the Tritons, but it would be better to wait for the final scheduled meeting between the teams on Oct. 8.

    UCSD returns to Canyonview Pool for a six-game home stand between Oct. 15 and Nov. 5, including games against Stanford, Loyola Marymount, No. 5 UC Irvine and No. 9 Pepperdine.

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