Water Polo Closes out WWPA Season with Two Ranked Victories

UC San Diego’s men’s water polo team finished off their last week of the Western Water Polo Association (WWPA) conference season on a positive note, with an emphatic 16–8 win against Santa Clara University on Thursday, followed by a tight 11–10 victory against UC Davis on Saturday.

Against No. 20 Santa Clara on the road, No. 12 UCSD added to their winning streak in their penultimate conference match of the season, securing a decisive 16–8 victory away against the Broncos. After a bit of a slow start, the Tritons grew into the game in the second quarter and took over the lead just before halftime, which would set the tone for the rest of the game. This win sealed the Tritons’ fifth conference win and 12th overall win of the season. 

The scoring was kicked off by the home side, with Santa Clara center Cody Ferguson scoring 2 back-to-back goals within the first minute of play. The Tritons pulled back a point less than a minute later, courtesy of a goal by redshirt junior utility player Manuel Augusto. San Diego’s redshirt senior utility player Karlo Krmek also added his name to the scoresheet, but only after the Broncos retaliated with a goal by Chase Raisin; the first period ended 4–2 to the home side.

The second quarter saw a shift, with UCSD getting into more of a rhythm. The Tritons struck first after the break, again with Augusto bringing the scoreline to just a single-goal difference. It looked like Santa Clara would hold onto their lead for longer after Ferguson scored his third goal just 12 seconds later, but the Tritons rallied to overtake by the end of the quarter thanks to goal contributions by redshirt sophomore utility player Brendan Nugent, Karlo Krmek, redshirt junior utility player Vedran Latkovic and redshirt senior utility player Calder Hilde-Jones. Especially noteworthy were Krmek’s goal from a penalty and Latkovic’s powerplay capitalizing on a Santa Clara exclusion.

The second half saw a dominant UCSD side score 9 more goals. Less than 2 minutes into the third quarter, redshirt sophomore utility player Kaden Likins scored his first of the game. His was followed by Augusto’s third, a second each by Nugent and Hilde-Jones and a last-second goal by Krmek to round off his 3 of the afternoon. Santa Clara’s Jake Taylor and Ford Eldredge scored 2 for the home side to cut the Triton lead to 12–7. 

The Tritons capped off their impressive performance with 4 more goals in the last period. Hilde-Jones scored twice more and Latkovic added a second to his total, with redshirt senior utility player Alex Zamanian finding the back of the net with less than three minutes to go to soundly secure the victory for the visitors. At the other end of the pool, redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Alexander Nemeth put in an important defensive shift with 7 saves and 3 steals. 

Two days later, the Tritons headed away their Saturday match-up with No. 9 Davis, riding the momentum of their earlier victory against Santa Clara. The Aggies proved to be a bigger challenge for the visitors, but a last-minute battle by UCSD to hold their narrow lead let them eke out a win against a tough opponent to notch their third consecutive win.

UCSD started well, opening the scoring with a goal by Kaden Likins. This was followed up with a goal by Davis’s Aleix Aznar Beltran, setting the tone of the game with the beginnings of a close tug-of-war contest between two evenly-matched sides. Hilde-Jones got on the scoresheet less than a minute later to regain the lead for San Diego. The Tritons gave up a penalty just before the 3-minute mark, but UC Davis was unable to capitalize on the opportunity. 

The tight race continued with the visitors adding to their goal count after Hilde-Jones scored his second, only to be countered by a goal from UC Davis’s Logan Anderson. A powerplay from Krmek added to the Tritons’ lead, but goals by Nir Gross and Anderson within the last two minutes tied the score for the Aggies at the end of the period at 4–4.

The second quarter began with a number of fouls resulting in exclusions for three UCSD players and a yellow card for head coach Denny Harper at the 6:21 mark. After a Davis timeout, the home side took the lead from a goal by Michael Plastino. A pair of goals from the Tritons followed, one being a penalty converted by Vedran Latkovic. The half was seen out with no more goals but another yellow card, this time awarded to UC Davis’ Aaron Voggenthaler.

The third quarter saw the resurgence of the back-and-forth that largely characterized this tense fixture, with the score yo-yoing between the sides after Logan Anderson evened for the Aggies. This was soon followed by alternating goals by UCSD’s Krmek and Davis’ Connor Norton. The Aggies took the lead with three minutes left in the quarter after Aznar Beltran scored again, but were unable to maintain the edge for long: another penalty awarded to the Tritons saw Latkovic again convert the opportunity to re-tie the score. Things heated further when Davis retook the lead and with less than 20 seconds to go, UC Davis head coach Daniel Leyson matched Harper with a yellow card of his own. The third quarter ended with UC Davis holding a narrow 9–8 edge.

The final period of the match saw the scoreline go down to the wire. UCSD evened the tally with Krmek finding the back of the net to seal his hat trick, and then pulled ahead with a second goal by Latkovic and third by Hilde-Jones with 41 seconds remaining. It took commendable grit and determination for the Tritons to protect their lead, and despite another goal by Davis’ Plastino in the last 30 seconds, the visitors held on to secure the win, 11–10.

It was a well-won victory, with an impressive display from both the offense and defense — goalkeeper Alexander Nemeth put up 11 saves and 2 steals on the occasion to round out a tough contest.

This win gave the Tritons their sixth conference and 13th overall win. UC Davis suffered their first conference loss this season, and the result was especially sweet for the Tritons after their overtime loss just over a month ago to the Aggies at the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) Invitational. 

With the season winding down, the Tritons come back home to play the San Francisco Olympic Club on Saturday, Nov. 13 before heading back up to Davis to participate in the WWPA Tournament the following weekend.

Image courtesy of Erik Jepsen / UC San Diego Athletics

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