Uncharted Territory

The UCLA men’s water polo team came into Canyonview Pool as a bigger, stronger and more aggressive group than the UCSD squad. The Bruins were prepared and confident, but someone forgot to tell them one thing — no one bullies UCSD at home.

Kunal Sukhija/Guardian
Senior goalkeeper Jeremy Randall defended with force as a UCLA opponent challenged his net. The Tritons secured the win in the final minute of the game to beat the Bruins for the first time in UCSD history.

“They were very physical, but it didn’t throw us off at all,” Triton senior two-meter offense Ty Lackey said. “We’re used to it now and that’s how we like it.”

With that kind of confidence, the stage was set for the biggest game of the year — the No. 4 Tritons versus the No. 3 Bruins. After a hard-fought match, the game was tied 12-12, with just over a minute remaining in the game. Junior driver Adnan Jerkovic put UCSD up by one with a beautiful lob shot past the helpless Bruin goalkeeper, his sixth and final goal of the night, forcing UCLA to call a timeout with 28 seconds left on the clock. The record crowd of 1,740 stood on its feet, fans raising their voices to an intimidating level — there was no question whose house it was.

“The crowd was everything,” Lackey said. “There’s nothing like being down by two goals and looking up to [hear] everyone chanting, ‘Beat L.A.’”

The Bruins had one final shot at tying the game and got the ball to Marco Santos in the middle, who was a force to be reckoned with throughout the game. But the Tritons surrounded him and his shot went high to end the game 13-12. With no court to swarm and no goalposts to tear down, the UCSD fans erupted with emotion, celebrating the sport’s first victory against UCLA in school history.

“The noise was amazing and it definitely helped us win the game,” Jerkovic said. “[The Bruins] were scared at the end with 30 seconds left with the crowd that loud.”

The Tritons improved to 15-2 and continued to assert their position as a top-ranked water polo powerhouse, dropping the Bruins to a 6-2 record.

“This team has something special and I think it’s in their hearts,” UCSD head coach Dan Harper said. “I’ve been here 27 years and I have some neat memories in this pool, but that right there passes them up.”

In the first quarter, Jerkovic gave the Tritons the lead, but the Bruins responded right away by scoring with a one-man advantage. UCLA capitalized on several bad UCSD possessions and went up, 1-3. Jerkovic responded and scored his second goal of the game to halt some of UCLA’s momentum.

Junior driver Nestor Dordoni won the ball for the Tritons in the second quarter and scored the quarter’s first goal to tie the game at 3-3. The teams continued to battle throughout the quarter, but UCSD allowed two goals late in the quarter to trail 6-8 going into halftime.

The roaring crowd helped energize the Tritons for the second half. UCSD recorded two early goals to tie the game at 8-8, on a five-meter penalty shot by Lackey and a goal by senior utility Jesse Casellini.

UCLA was able to dominate the middle in the first half, but the Tritons had better execution in the third quarter to take away the advantage.

“We played the best defense we can,” senior goalkeeper Jeremy Randall said. “We can’t play one-on-one like all the other teams. We have to help and have total team defense.”

After a UCLA goal, Lackey tried to respond, but missed wide right. Then senior Bruin goalkeeper Will Didinger was called for a delay of game, which had UCLA head coach Adam Krikorian fuming, receiving a yellow card after screaming at the officials. Jerkovic tied the game yet again, only to have the Bruins’ senior defense Michael March score with nine seconds left in the third, 9-10.

“If [Krikorian] can’t come down here and kick our ass with all the resources that they have, then that’s just too bad — he can cry all the way home,” Harper said. “The refs had nothing to do [with their loss].”

The energize Tritons started the fourth quarter by scoring three straight goals to go up by two, 12-10. After a UCLA goal from a penalty shot, UCSD then drew its own penalty shot, but Lackey failed to extend the lead back to two. The Bruins scored after a few possessions, leaving barely a minute in the game for Jerkovic to pull through for the winning goal.

Pending the release of new rankings, the Tritons will most likely move up to the third spot in the national rankings — just behind the University of Southern California and UC Berkeley — its highest ranking ever.

UCSD will be tested once again in the Southern California Tournament Oct. 14-15.