Men’s Water Polo Falls Just Short in Battle of the Kings Match

UC San Diego men’s water polo (3–7, 2–0 Big West) hosted Loyola Marymount University (7–1, 3–0 West Coast Conference) last Wednesday, in what was the first matchup between both teams this season. UCSD entered Wednesday’s match looking to bounce back from a loss in their previous game against California State University, Long Beach. 

The Tritons got off to a hot start in the first with a strong collective effort on both sides of the ball, keeping the Lions scoreless and jumping out to a 2–0 lead by the end of the quarter. Their first scoring contribution came from sophomore utility player Rhys Bugelli, who scored his twenty-third goal of the season with 5:54 remaining in the first. Following Bugelli’s goal, the Tritons held onto their lead by collecting a number of timely stops on the defensive end and scoring a last-second insurance goal from senior utility player Manuel Augusto, giving the team momentum heading into the second quarter.

LMU put a stop to their offensive dry spell by scoring their first goal of the match at the 4:49 mark of the second quarter, cutting the Tritons’ lead to one goal. UCSD quickly retaliated the following possession with a goal of their own from their freshman utility player Bennett Axline, who scored an additional goal later in the period to give the Tritons a 4–1 lead. With the Tritons up three, the Lions were able to cut the deficit to two with a goal from their senior attacker Blazo Mitrovic, but UCSD answered back late in the period once again, this time with a goal scored by their senior utility player Vedran Latkovic. The first half came to a close with the Tritons leading 5–2. 

In the third quarter, the game got a bit tense for the Tritons as their lead began to slip away. The Lions were able to rattle off three goals and knot up the score at 5–5 around the halfway mark in the period as the Lions finally dented a rugged Triton defense. Trying to keep the offense alive, Augusto scored another goal for the Tritons, giving them a 6–5 lead heading into the fourth.

In the final period of regulation, LMU was able to tie the game once again, making the score 6–6 with over seven minutes left in the quarter. About a minute after the Lions’ game-tying goal, UCSD’s Latkovic scored once again to give the Tritons another lead, but their lead lasted all but ten seconds as LMU’s Bruno Salonikios answered right back to tie the game at 7–7. The final six minutes of regulation featured a number of big defensive stops for both sides, as both teams went scoreless for the remainder of the fourth, resulting in two overtime periods being played. 

The Lions dominated the first overtime period with two goals, and put the Tritons back up against the wall. With the pressure on the Tritons to score in crunch time, they were able to tie the game again in the second overtime period with more scoring contributions from Axline and Augusto. The score was 9–9 at the end of both overtime periods, setting the stage for a sudden victory finish. Both teams played tight defense down the stretch, but it was the Lions who emerged victorious off of a game-winning goal from Rimlinger. The Lions won Wednesday’s match 10–9. Although the Tritons lost a close one, they still gave a solid effort on both ends of the ball and had many positives to take away from their performance. 

Following the game, Tritons head coach Matt Ustaszewski spoke to The UCSD Guardian about his team’s struggles in the third quarter and the adjustments they should have made to ensure the victory. “We got out of our rhythm a little bit in our frontcourt offense and it let them get some transition opportunities, so I think if we would have stuck to the game plan in the first half and continued to work for our young centers, we would like to have that back for sure,” Ustaszewski said. 

The Tritons will be back at home on Thursday, Sept. 29, and will match up against Biola University, where they will look to deliver a crucial victory. 

Image courtesy of Kathleen Shiroma

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