In what was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the UCLA men’s water polo team, the Bruins defeated crosstown rivals USC to win the program’s 11th national championship and the school’s 114th NCAA title.
Though the Bruins team featured six true freshmen on their roster playing major minutes and a redshirt sophomore goalkeeper playing for the first time as a full-time starter in NCAA competition, they held the nation’s top offensive team in their home pool to just five goals, in their 7-5 win over third-seeded USC on Dec. 3 at USC’s Uytengsu Aquatics Center. The Bruins finished the year at 21-4.
Having lost eight seniors in 2015 and nine others in 2016 to graduation, UCLA was predicted to finish fourth by the league’s coaches.
“We had a young team and we didn’t know coming in at the start of it how well they were able to adhere to our themes that we practice in and out every day and I think they really grew over the last few weeks and really performed the way [head coach Adam Wright] likes to see his group perform over the years,” said senior Alex Roelse, who along with fellow senior Matt Farmer led UCLA with two goals each.
Redshirt sophomore Alex Wolf played the entire game in goal for UCLA. Wolf not only recorded 10 saves while allowing just five goals, two on Trojan power plays, he also scored the winning goal after a pass from defenseman Warren Snyder.
“Well, I love shooting. So I’m going to shoot it every time,” said Wolf, who was named MVP of the championship. “But then Warren passed me the ball and I saw the clear path so I just sent it. I didn’t know it was going in cause like I was not ready to score, I was just throwing it. But then I scored and I guess I won the game … It feels great.”
Matteo Morelli scored the first goal of the game for USC on a power play at the 6:42 mark. Marin Dasic made it 2-0 with a goal from the front court (1:51). Freshman Quinten Osborne got the Bruins on the board with a goal at two meters (1:33) to trim the Trojans’ lead to 2-1.
Zach D’Sa scored on a cross-cage shot to open the scoring in the second period (4:37), giving the Trojans a 3-1 advantage. But Roelse scored from the front court with 21 seconds left to cut the lead to 3-2 at the break.
Farmer tied things up at 3-3 (3:33) off a nice feed from Roelse into two meters. But James Walters answered immediately with a goal (3:05) to put USC up 4-3. Senior Max Irving then scored from the front court after an ordinary foul (1:56) to tie the game at 4-4. Roelse then provided his second score of the game and the Bruins’ first power play goal to give UCLA its first lead of the game (0:44) at 5-4, ending the scoring in the third.
Blake Edwards tied the game at 5-5 with a power play score (6:47) to open the scoring in the fourth. Farmer then scored a power play goal (6:05) to put the Bruins back in front, 6-5. Both teams made several defensive stops down the stretch. But none was bigger than the Bruins’ stop in the final seconds on a Trojan power play. Later, Wolf collected a ball from a Bruin teammate and noticed that USC goalie McQuin Baron was out of the cage on the other end and fired a shot that scored with just two seconds remaining to provide the 7-5 final.
Roelse, Wolf and Irving were named to the First Team All-Tournament. Farmer and freshman Nicolas Saveljic were named Second Team All-Tournament.