LOS ALAMITOS, CA., December 1. IT'LL be Cal's big, bad Golden Bears against Pepperdine's powerful Waves for all the marbles this evening in the finals of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation men's water polo tournament.
The winner gets an automatic bid to next weekend's NCAA Final Four at Loyola-MarymountUniversity.
Well, it's not necessarily win or stay home.
The runner-up team's fate rests in the hands of the NCAA selection committee, which must choose three other schools. If history is any guide both the champ and the runner-up will be returning to Westchester next weekend for a shot at the title, as usually a pair of West Coast teams is invited along with two other Eastern representatives.
Stanford could get the at-large berth over tonight's loser if the committee feels it would be a stronger representative, and the Cardinal's 22-4 overall record plus its defending NCAA champ status make it a very viable candidate for inclusion.
In the more than 30-year history of the NCAA water polo championship, no non-West Coast team has ever won the title — nor made it into the final match. In the short history of the women's championship, the same situation prevails. UCLA beat Stanford at Stanford for the initial national-collegiqate championship a year ago, and Stanford returned the favor at USC last May.
Pepperdine, coached by former U.S. Olympian Terry Schroeder, who was the Waves' headman when they won their only NCAA Championships five years ago over USC, made it into the finals with a 7-6 semi-final victory over UCLA — last year's NCAA runner-up to champiuon Stanford.
Cal (18-6), which has won a record 11 championships since the tourney's innauguration in 1969, splashed into the championship game by virtue of its 8-7 semi-final victory over Bay Area rival Stanford (22-4), which had been ranked No. 1 nationally.
This evening's finale will face off at 6:30 PM PST in the Joint Forces Training Base, home of the U.S. national water polo team. That match will be preceded by a 5:00 PM game between Stanford and UCLA for third place.
Cal has not been in the NCAA Championship since 1995, when it lost to UCLA, 10-8. However, da Bears have twice run the table three-in-a-row, sweeping to championships from '73-'75 and again from '90-'92. Cal almost made it a threepeat in '89 too as, after having won in '87-'88, it bowed to U Cal Irvine in the final.
Had Stanford won against Cal and then gone on to take NCAAs, Cardinal coach John Vargas would have become the first coach to win the championship in his rookie season. He was boys' coach at Corona del Mar High in Southern California prior to this year, and had won three consecutive CIF Southern Section titles before departing for The Farm a year ago.
However, Stanford came up a goal shy so the matter's academic.
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Pepperdine (16-9), regular-season MPSF champ, utilized a strong defensive effort and timely play by senior goalie Michael Soltis to defeat the Bruins (14-8).
The Waves are ranked No. 6 nationally by the American Water Polo Coaches Assn. and defeated Cal, 8-5, in the teams' only meeting three weeks ago in Berkeley. Pepperdine then went on to defeat Stanford at the Card's Avery Aquatics' complex the following day for a sweep of its Northern California MPSF foes.
Soltis recorded six saves for top-seed Pepperdine, including three in the fourth-quarter, helping the Waves rally from a 5-4 deficit to defeat the No. 3 Bruins.
Pepperdine jumped to a quick 3-0 lead, as junior driver Jeremy Grubbs, senior holeman Karl Niehaus and senior driver William Rodriguez each scored goals.
UCLA rallied to score four of the game's next five goals and the contest was tied, 4-4, at halftime.
The Bruins took their first lead at the 4:31 mark of the third quarter thanks to a goal by freshman Michael March. The Waves Pepperdine answered 24 seconds later when Grubbs scored his second goal of the night.
Pepperdine junior holeman Michael Hausmann put the Waves ahead by a 6-5 count when he scored with 43 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
The Waves maintained their slim, one-goal advantage until the 3:24 mark of the fourth quarter, when sophomore utilityman Jesse Smith converted for Pepperdine.
UCLA sophomore Brett Ormsby, the Bruins' leading scorer, rifled home his third and final goal of the game at the 2:49 mark to cap the scoring.
Pepperdine is making its first appearance in the championship game of the MPSF Tournament since 1998, when the Waves lost an 11-8 overtime decision to Stanford. The Cardinal eventually lost the NCAA Championship to USC.
UCLA 1 3 1 1 — 6
Pepperdine 3 1 2 1 — 7
UCLA Scoring: Brett Ormsby (3), Michael March (2), Peter Belden (1)
Pepperdine Scoring: Jeremy Grubbs (2), Josh Acosta (1), Michael Hausmann (1), Karl Niehaus (1), Jesse Smith (1)
UCLA Goalkeeping: Brandon Brooks; 3 saves and 7 goals allowed
Pepperdine Goalkeeping: Michael Soltis; 6 saves and 6 goals allowed
UCLA: 14-8 / Ranked No. 3
Pepperdine: 16-9 / Ranked No. 6
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In the Cal-Stanford match, Golden Bear junior All-America Attila Banhidy scored four goals, including three on four-meter penalty shots, to lead his team to its 8-7 win over No. 1-ranked Stanford in the semi-final MPSF Tournament contest.
The Bears rallied from an early 4-1 deficit to earn the victory as Stanford jumped to a 4-1 lead at 2:57 in the second after Tony Azevedo scored the second of his three goals on the evening.
Cal bounced back to pull to within two as Todd Hylton scored at 1:19 to make the score 4-2 Stanford at the half, but the Cardinal still appeared fully in control.
Chris Lathrop then put Cal back into the game scoring back-to-back goals in the third quarter (6:15, 3:46), 4-4. After Card Jeff Nesmith scored at 1:56, giving Stanford a 5-4 lead, Banhidy then tallied the first of his three penalty shots at the 1:44 mark in the third.
Banhidy tallied another penalty score at 5:51 in the fourth, tying the contest at 6-6. Hylton put Cal ahead to stay with his second goal at 4:28 and then Banhidy converted on his third penalty shot at 3:49, giving the Golden Bears an 8-6 advantage.
Azevedo, last season's NCAA Player of the Year as a freshman and this year's leading national scorer, tallied at 3:18 to pull the Cardinal to within 8-7, but that was it for the scoring.
Cal goalie Russell Bernstein recorded 10 saves, including four in the fourth quarter. Card Nick Ellis had nine saves. Banhidy now has 8 goals in the first two matches of the MPSF Tournament and a big game tonight — resulting in a Golden Bear win — would likely gain the Hungarian national team star the MVP title.
Cal and Stanford now have split the season series 2-2, with all four contests decided by one goal.
– Bill Bell
Stanford 3 1 1 2 7
California 1 1 2 4 8
Stanford Scoring: Tony Azevedo 3, Peter Hudnut 2, Thomas Hopkins 1, Jeff Nesmith 1
California Scoring: Attilla Banhidy 4, Todd Hylton 2, Chris Lathrop 2
Nick Ellis (Stan) 9
Russell Bernstein (Cal) 10