In their last regular season game of 2022, the 12th-ranked UC San Diego Men’s Water Polo team (12–12, 6–2 WWPA) enthralled a raucous Canyonview Aquatic Center crowd, beating the University of California, Irvine (14–11, 2–2 GCC) by a score of 14–8. UCSD never trailed in this Thursday night matchup, as senior goalkeeper Alexander Nemeth and sophomore goalkeeper Logan Estes made a combined 11 saves. Led by star senior attacker Vedran Latkovic, who notched a career-high of eight goals, the team’s graduating seniors drove the Tritons toward a commanding victory.
The Tritons set the tone early, racing out to a 3–0 lead. It started with a strong right-handed save, when Nemeth found senior Will Riley racing out on the perimeter, resulting in Riley skipping his shot past the outstretched UC Irvine goalkeeper and into the net. A couple of possessions later, senior Manuel Augusto made it 2-0 for the Tritons, capping off an excellent string of passes with a goal from the point. Latkovic grabbed his first with 2:52 remaining in the quarter. Fighting off his defender and moving backward, Latkovic released a stunningly powerful shot from ten meters, hitting the underside of the crossbar and falling into the net. This incredible goal was the first of five consecutive from the Montenegrin star.
After UC Irvine responded with two quick goals, the Tritons countered, pushing the score to 4-2 with 1:25 left in the first quarter. After the Anteaters were penalized on an exclusion call, Latkovic converted the 6 on 5 from the perimeter after a skillful set-up pass by Augusto. Great goalkeeping play held the game level for the rest of the quarter, giving UCSD the two-goal advantage at the break.
The second quarter opened similarly to the first. After a few wasted possessions by both sides, the Tritons earned a penalty with 5:39 remaining in the half. Latkovic powerfully led the Tritons to a 5–2 lead, with a rising skip shot into the right corner for the Montenegrin’s third goal of the game. However, only minutes later, the Anteaters were able to convert on another 6-on-5 opportunity and pushed the score to 5-3.
The Tritons’ sixth and Latkovic’s fourth score came with only 2:17 left in the half. The senior pump faked twice from the point and released a forceful shot into the bottom left corner of the net. Latkovic made it 7–3 with a goal-of-the-season contender, this time after a quick release pass from the goalkeeper Nemeth. Finding himself facing only the UC Irvine goalkeeper, Latkovic flicked a looping shot high over the arms of the goalie, which dropped softly into the net. The Anteaters added two goals from the right side to end the half, but UCSD’s 7–5 lead was soon to be increased.
The Tritons struck first in the third quarter with their third Nemeth-assisted breakaway goal, this time from senior Brendan Nugent. His goal opened what would be a five-goal quarter for the Tritons. Following the Anteaters’ first goal of the quarter, the Tritons restored their three-goal lead through redshirt freshman Brandon Fezzey. With only one second remaining on the shot clock, Fezzey rifled a clutch skip shot past the Anteater goalkeeper to increase UCSD’s advantage to 9–6.
After another UC Irvine goal cut down the Tritons’ lead to two, UCSD scored three unanswered goals to close out the third quarter. The first, with 3:04 left in the period, came from Latkovic, who scored with a strong right-handed finish from the point. He added his seventh just one minute later with an almost identical finish, skipping a shot inside the right post. Finally, the Tritons’ twelfth goal was yet another breakaway assisted by Nemeth and scored by Manuel Augusto. It was Nemeth’s fourth assist of the match and the second goal for Augusto.
UCSD held onto their 12–7 lead in a quiet fourth quarter. Only 20 seconds into the period, Latkovic scored his career-high eighth goal of the match with perhaps his best: a double-clutched, no-look strike into the top left corner. Out of all his incredible goals of the night, it was fitting he would save his best for last and remarkably in his final regular season game for UCSD as well.
With 3:30 left in the fourth quarter, sophomore Miles Wilson rifled a left-handed shot into the goal, establishing the Tritons’ lead at 14–7. The remainder of the game was the Logan Estes show, as the substitute goalkeeper made three saves in the final three minutes, including a one-on-one rising stop with time running out on the clock. He was unable to prevent an Anteater consolation goal, but his efforts kept the final score at 14–8.
Stellar defensive play and clinical offense culminated in an impressive all-around game for the Tritons. It also served as revenge for an earlier 10–5 loss to UC Irvine in September during the Triton Invitational.
UCSD begins postseason play on Friday, Nov. 18 in the WWPA Tournament. The No. 3-seeded Tritons will hope to upset favorites, UC Davis, starting with their first-round matchup against No. 6 seed, California Baptist University.
Image Courtesy of Kathleen Shiroma