In their last home game of the regular season, the 13th-ranked UC San Diego men’s water polo team ended the season with a flourish in a dominant conference win over Fresno Pacific University, continuing their 8–0 unbeaten streak against the Sunbirds. Coming off the back of a home loss to Loyola Marymount University last week, UCSD pulled off a decisive performance on Friday night. The Tritons’ five seniors capped off their Senior Night in style with a high-scoring 19–7 victory, bringing their record this season to 11–8 overall and 4–2 within the Western Water Polo Association Conference.
Just before the game started, the five graduating seniors — Jack Ranj, Aram Nordanyan, Karlo Krmek, Calder Hilde-Jones, and Alex Zamanian — were recognized with their families and presented with framed commemorative gifts. The crowd was lively all night, with a good turnout showing support for the Tritons throughout the match, combining with the band to create a high-energy atmosphere to send off UCSD’s graduating athletes and close out the home season.
The evening saw the Tritons holding the reins, but only after an initially shaky start, which saw the Tritons concede a power play goal from Fresno Pacific’s Eugenio Maldonado with 2:35 minutes left in the first quarter. Indeed, the beginning of the game had the home side playing catch-up for a while. Two goals by UCSD redshirt freshman utility player Miles Wilson kept the game neck-and-neck until the last 23 seconds of the period, when UCSD took the lead for the first time after a goal by redshirt sophomore utility player Brendan Nugent. Throughout the first period, the Tritons were far from out of the game with several shots rattling the frame of the goal.
The second period was especially lively, ultimately ending with 6 more goals on the scoreboard for the Tritons to Fresno Pacific’s 1. The home side began with a bang after redshirt sophomore utility player Max Carrillo scored 22 seconds in. Redshirt freshman utility player Max Abravanel and freshman utility player Rhys Bugelli each followed that up with goals of their own to put the Tritons 4 scores ahead of the Sunbirds.
When Fresno Pacific called a timeout with 4:35 left on the clock in the second period, it was clear they felt they needed to disrupt the home momentum. It paid off, at least in the short term, with another goal by Maldonado just 15 seconds after play resumed.
However, the Tritons would put themselves back on the scoreboard with 3 goals in the last two minutes before the halftime mark. Just as the Sunbirds restarted play minutes before with a quick goal out of a timeout, so did UCSD through redshirt senior utility player Calder Hilde-Jones; he scored his first goal of the game and added to his impressive goal tally to make it 43 in 19 games this season. This was followed up with goals by redshirt junior utility player Vedran Latkovic and redshirt senior utility player Alex Zamanian less than a minute apart to see off the second quarter with the Tritons leading 9–3.
After switching sides for the third period, play kicked off with a goal by Fresno Pacific’s Pietro Cattano; but again, the Tritons came roaring back with 3 goals of their own, courtesy of second goals by Latkovic, Carrillo and Bugelli, all the while maintaining pressure on the opposition goalkeeper and continuing to pepper shots that glanced off the frame. The quarter ended 13–4 after Carrillo capitalized on a Fresno exclusion by scoring his third goal of the night with 27 seconds left on the clock.
Heading into the final quarter, the Tritons were comfortably in the lead, but they kept their feet on the gas to score a further 6 goals. Even though Fresno pulled back 3 points from a goal by William Green and 2 by Bodhi Bowden, UCSD’s scoring run continued. Bugelli and Zamanian each contributed another goal, while redshirt sophomore utility player Connor McManigal and redshirt freshmen utility players Will Riley, Berk Aksoy and Connor King were able to get on the scoresheet as well. Despite their efforts, the Sunbirds were unable to close the gap, as 12 seconds after King’s effort hit the back of the net, the final whistle was blown and the victory was sealed for the Tritons, 19–7.
The Tritons put on an impressive Senior Night performance, especially on the offensive front. Along with the substantial goal margin, UCSD led Fresno Pacific in shots, 43–24, along with a shot success rate of 44.2% — significantly higher in comparison to Fresno’s 29.2%. Carrillo and Bugelli jointly led in goals with 3 each, while Wilson led the Tritons in points on the night, scoring 2 goals and assisting another 3. Defensively, three goalkeepers made appearances in the pool for UCSD, with redshirt sophomores Alexander Nemeth and Bennett Kienast, and redshirt freshman Logan Estes each playing their part in the win: Nemeth with 3 saves, 3 steals and an assist, Kienast with 2 saves, a steal and an assist and Estes with 2 saves.
After turning the game around completely after the slow start, UCSD head coach Denny Harper said, “I think our guys were relatively patient, but I do have to say we did not start the ball game very well,” but ultimately it was Fresno’s “lack of depth” which saw the visitors “just get worn out” and help the Tritons get a grip on the game. As for his team’s emphatic display, Harper remarked, “Senior Night is always… a fairly emotional thing for the whole team. I could sense it from the start that they were pretty fired up to play well.”
The Tritons hope to continue the momentum from this decisive victory, next heading to Santa Clara University on Nov. 4 and then to UC Davis on Nov. 6 for the final two conference games of the 2021 season.
Image courtesy of Jeff Tourial / UC San Diego Athletics