Final Four Bid Falls Short

    The Tritons finished the season with an impressive 20-11 record, but they were unable to defeat Loyola Marymount this season, falling to the Lions four times. UCSD was outscored 5-3 in the second quarter of the WWPA championship game against the Lions, ultimately leading to the team’s defeat. (Erik Jepsen/Guardian File)

    MEN’S WATER POLO — For the fourth time this season, UCSD fell to Loyola Marymount University in a close contest. The latest defeat holds the most weight, however, as it came in the Western Water Polo Association championship game on Nov. 23. The No. 8 Lions used a five-goal offensive outburst in the second period to defeat the No. 9 Tritons 12-10. The loss came on the heels of a thrilling 10-9 UCSD victory over No. 11 UC Davis on Nov. 22 and a 24-8 rout of host Claremont-Mudd-Scripps on Nov. 21. The Tritons end their season with a 20-11 while Loyola Marymount University advances to the NCAA Final Four at Stanford on Dec. 6.

    The first seed Lions and second seed Tritons had met in the WWPA finals six times previously and with the two squads having been the only conference teams to win the title in the past eight seasons, the matchup was no surprise.
    “It is 100 percent what we wanted and as it should be,” head coach Denny Harper said of the two teams facing off in the championship.

    UCSD came out strong in the first quarter, outscoring the Lions 2-1 in the period. Both offenses heated up in the second period while the Triton defense struggled, allowing the Lions to score five times. UCSD netted three goals in the period and entered the half trailing 6-5.

    The Tritons took advantage of LMU miscues to get on board twice to start the third quarter, the first score coming off a five-meter penalty shot and the second from a six-on-five opportunity. The Lions tied the game at seven on the ensuing possession and regained the lead just 40 seconds later with 4:10 left in the quarter. Both teams added a goal apiece to keep the Lions on top 9-8 heading into the final period.

    With time running out in the game, the Tritons needed to outscore Loyola Marymount in the final period to keep their season alive. But the Lions had other plans, scoring first in the fourth quarter and playing tight defense to earn the 12-10 championship victory.

    Senior utility A.J. Kotanjian scored five times and junior two-meter Daniel Garcia scored twice for the Tritons, with only three other plays netting goals for UCSD. The Lions, on the other hand, had a more balanced attack with seven players contributing offensively.

    While the Tritons’ road to the WWPA title match was by no means easy, their first game of the tournament was essentially a glorified warm-up as UCSD dismantled Claremont-Mudd-Scripps following the Tritons’ first-round bye. Playing in its second game of the day, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps looked flat against the fresh UCSD team, allowing the Tritons to jump out to a dominating 9-1 advantage in the first quarter.

    The Tritons somehow managed to be even more dominant in the second period, holding their opponent scoreless while adding eight goals to take a 17-1 lead at halftime. UCSD never let up, scoring a season-high 24 goals in the contest to earn its 19th victory of the year.

    “The first game was not much of a game — we were dominant,” Harper said. “Claremont had to play earlier in the day and they weren’t up to the challenge of playing us.”

    Fourteen players scored for UCSD with junior two-meter Daniel Garcia netting a team-high four goals. Junior driver Knief Lohse, junior utility Sean Roberts and Kotanjian each scored three times in the Triton victory. Senior driver Adnan Jerkovic, senior driver Sidd Menon, junior two-meter defender Steven Donohoe and freshman driver Graham Saber scored two goals apiece.

    UCSD’s second game of the tournament was much more difficult as the Tritons faced off with the Aggies in the semifinal matchup. UCSD had won both games between the teams earlier this season, but this contest was anybody’s game from the beginning. The Tritons and Aggies scored three goals apiece in the first quarter and after UC Davis took a 6-5 lead in the second period, Jerkovic evened things out with a score to close out the quarter all tied up.

    The third period proved to be the deciding quarter as the Tritons outscored the Aggies 2-1 backed by strong play from freshman goalkeeper David Morton, playing in his first conference championship.

    “Adi and A.J. had good games and David Morton was huge in the cage — he played very well,” Harper said. “It was good to win the game even though we didn’t play well as a group. To their credit, Davis played very well but we played well enough to win.”

    Even though the loss in the WWPA championship game was disappointing for the Tritons, their appearance in the title game and the 20-11 final season record was an improvement over last season’s fifth-place finish and 12-17 record. UCSD was obviously aided by the return of Kotanjian and Jerkovic this season, who were both named to the WWPA All-Tournament first team after the championship game. Garcia also earned conference honors as he was named to the WWPA All-Tournament second team.

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