Final Four Thriller Puts UCSD on the Map

    As many of you may already know, our men’s water polo team went to the NCAA Final Four and finished third in the nation. This UCSD team showed a lot of heart by disproving everyone and surpassing all expectations.

    Senior goalkeeper Jeremy Randall told me from early in the season that everyone was counting them out and they just wanted to show what they could do.

    The Tritons went on to set the record for most wins, with a 26-6 record, in a season by beating UCLA for the first time in school history and taking care of business against their Western Water Polo Association opponents along the way.

    It says a lot about the program when finishing third is a bittersweet feeling. UCSD has become a Division II school that expects to win, no matter who its opponents are. This mentality is brought on by head coach Denny Harper and his assistants, who also make sure they hava a team that has no real egos and a lot of camaraderie.

    But no egos does not mean that no one on the team was talented.

    Senior two-meter offense Ty Lackey was named to the NCAA Division I First Team, while senior utility Jesse Casellini earned a Division I honorable mention. The Tritons took six of the seven All-American spots in Division II as Lackey also received MVP honors and Harper earned his third Division II Coach of the Year selection.

    If you’ve never been to a sports game at UCSD, I suggest you start with water polo. The Tritons went undefeated playing in Canyonview Pool and the energy of the crowd is incredible. You’ll see everything from a giant flag to guys with painted chests. And it gets loud – just ask the Bruins. UCLA head coach Adam Krikorian told me through email that it was hard to talk to his players during the timeouts because of the noise.

    While water polo will never be basketball or football in my eyes, I have become a fan of the sport. I was ready to leave in the second half of the championship game between University of Southern California and UC Berkeley, but my curiosity made me turn back to watch the rest of the game from the press area. I witnessed one of the greatest finishes in NCAA men’s water polo history as the Bears’ junior attacker Jeff Tyrrell scored the game-winning goal with no time left on the clock. The place went wild and it actually gave me goosebumps. Like one would rush the field after a big college football game, the players and fans jumped into the pool in celebration.

    Since I had no prior water polo knowledge, many of the things I saw during games, I saw with my basketball backdrop.

    As Lackey got in position on offense, I just saw him posting up his man with strength for an easier bucket. The Tritons looked to go inside out and create mismatches while also setting up pick and roll. As I attended a practice session, I saw them run zone defense and do many fast break drills like I did in high school basketball. They also swam back and forth to build up their endurance like I ran suicides on the court.

    Water polo also has similar moves to basketball. I remember earlier in the season where the team ran an alley-oop type of play where junior driver Nestor Dordoni rose up high to get the ball and shot it in one motion. When there’s a two-on-one fast break opportunity, they players try to make the defender commit and pass the ball up.

    In the third-place game against Navy, Dordoni made a sweet spin move to lose his defender for a goal. He also jumped a passing lane and outswam a couple of guys to retrieve the ball and score yet again. In the same quarter, Lackey threw in a no-look goal behind his back as the shot clock was expiring.

    UCSD water polo will continue to be successful as long as it does things the right way and recruits the right players. Who knows? Maybe in the near future, UCSD will be the first water polo team in DII to finally win a DI title.

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