Changing of the Water Polo Guard: UC Santa Barbara #1 in CWPA Top 20

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UCLA's Spieker Aquatics Center, one of two facilities that will host the 2019 MPSF Invitational. Photo Courtesy: UCLA Athletics

Following a stretch in which they knocked off two number one teams, this week the Gauchos of UC Santa Barbara ascended to the top of the Collegiate Water Polo Association’s Top 20. This is almost certainly the first time that UCSB has been ranked first in the CWPA poll; it is the first time since November 2013 that a non-Pac12 team has been voted the nation’s top men’s team. In fact, in the 11 years of online records for the CWPA’s varsity poll, only one other non-Pac12 program—Pacific—has made it to the top.

Now comes the big question: can the Gauchos hold on? That will be one of the story lines this weekend in Los Angeles where the 2019 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Invitational will take place at Loyola Marymount’s Burns Center and UCLA’s Spieker Aquatics Center. This year;s invite features 14 of the top 20 teams in the country—including the 11 best. In all, 16 teams will play 32 matches over three days in two pools; by 2 p.m. Sunday an MPSF Invite champion will be decided—and likely more upheaval in the poll that ranks the nation’s top twenty teams.

#1 UC Santa Barbara (13-0); following the best opening stretch in program history, Wolf Wigo’s team has been showered with superlatives—particularly after beating Stanford in Avery last Friday, a day after surviving a robust Pepperdine team in overtime. Now comes the MPSF Invitational; the Gauchos open against #20 San Jose State; a win over the Spartans means a likely rematch with a Waves team that dropped 12 goals on UCLA at Spieker. No matter what happens, this accomplishment by UCSB deserves to be celebrated.

[UC Santa Barbara Aims to Replicate Gauchos’ 1979 NCAA Championship Run]

#2 UCLA (6-0); the Bruins are in a bit of a quandary. They’ve started 6-0, which makes them the only undefeated MPSF team left. But, the two competitive matches Head Coach Adam Wright’s team has played so far—against San Jose State and Pepperdine—have been closer than most Bruin fans would like. Two years ago UCLA started slowly but then swept to an MPSF Invite title, success that foreshadowed an NCAA title in December. Could the same happen this weekend? They open Friday against Pomona-Pitzer.

#3 Stanford (6-1); the Cardinal returned to they’re winning ways in a 16-8 drubbing of host UC Davis last Saturday at the Aggie Round-Up. But one has to wonder how the nation’s #1 team was bush-wacked against UCSB in their own pool, going down 6-1 before dropping a 15-10 decision to the Gauchos. Head Coach John Vargas’ team opens the MPSF Invite against Air Force in the Loyola Marymount pool, then will likely have a quarterfinal match-up against the winner of Long Beach State and UC Davis.

#4 Pacific (6-0); the Tigers are another squad that has seen relatively little action so far in 2019, but Head Coach James Graham’s squad does own a signature win over Cal from the team’s opening weekend. They face host Loyola Marymount on Friday—no easy task—then hope to advance to a quarterfinal against the winner of USC versus Princeton. Can Pacific continue the non-Pac12 upset run and take out the Trojans?

[Notes from a Memorable Start to the 2019 NCAA Men’s Water Polo Season]

#5 University of Southern California (4-1); what an impact an early season loss has had on Trojan fortunes. They remain fifth in the poll—the first time that’s happened in decades—and if they beat Princeton on Friday USC will face a strong Pacific team Saturday morning at Spieker. Still, the defending MPSF Invite champs should not be overlooked; a strong run at their cross-town rival’s pool could change the outlook for the 2018 national champions.

#6 Pepperdine (7-3); Head Coach Terry Schroeder’s team has three losses, including back-to-back defeats by a total of three goals last week to #1 UCSB and #2 UCLA. They open tomorrow against #11 UC San Diego; a win will likely bring them to a third match-up with the Gauchos. Is the third time the charm for the Waves?

#7 University of California (7-3); the Golden Bears righted their sinking season but will go into MPSF as the seventh seed; it’s probably been two decades since Cal was seeded so low at a major tournament. But, with four wins last weekend at the Aggie Round-Up, spirits must be higher in Berkeley. Now Head Coach Kirk Everist must find a way to get past host UCLA on Saturday if his team is to have a shot at redemption at MPSF.

#8 Long Beach State (9-3); with all the focus on their GCC rival UCSB, the 49ers are going about the business of winning, sweeping all four of their matches against lower-ranked opponents at last weekend’s Air Force Invitational. Friday, they’ll open against UC Davis and—if they win—will advance with Stanford on Saturday—a first meeting with the Cardinal.

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Loyola Marymount’s Burns Center. Photo Courtesy: LMU Athletics

#9 UC Davis (5-4; 1-0 WWPA); after an historic win over California two weeks ago, the Aggies were beaten by Stanford and then Cal last weekend in Davis. The split of their four matches in the Aggie Round-Up leaves UCD middle of the pack for the poll, and facing Long Beach State tomorrow. Can Head Coach Dan Leydon get his players up for a big match? If not, they’ll be in the losers’ bracket Saturday morning—likely against Air Force.

#10 UC Irvine (5-2); the Anteaters will be tested tomorrow against Cal; the last time they beat the Golden Bears was 2012. Thus far, Cal has been vulnerable; however they already own a win over UCI this season. A loss means a likely Saturday morning match-up with Pomona-Pitzer.

#11 UC San Diego (7-4; 2-0 WWPA); the Tritons split two matches last week, decisively beating Fresno Pacific and losing a high-scoring match to Loyola Marymount. Waiting for them tomorrow at Spieker is Pepperdine; a win sends them into a match against #1 UCSB; a loss means a likely meeting with San Jose State.

#12 Harvard (9-0); Head coach Ted Minnis did not opt to travel West for the MPSF Invite. He has consistently avoided this top-flight tournament the past few years—likely to focus on the matter at hand: winning the Northeast Water Polo Conference. After a winning weekend at the Bucknell Invite, the Crimson are off until a weekend of road matches in early October against NWPC rivals Iona, Princeton and St. Francis Brooklyn.

#13 Loyola Marymount (3-5; 1-0 WWPA); going into their hosting duties for the MPSF Invite, the Lions earned a huge win yesterday over UCSD. It their first win over the reigning WWPA champs since October 2015. Is this a sign of better things to come for LMU? They open tomorrow at the Burns Center against Pacific, a very tall order.

#14 Princeton (5-5); wins last weekend against Wagner and Navy evened the Tigers’ record at .500; a match tomorrow against USC is a tough start to their weekend in Los Angeles. What’s great for Head Coach Dusty Litvak’s team is that they will face the country’s best—and he believes this best prepares Princeton for the NWPC battles to come.

[Princeton’s Litvak Talks Tiger Water Polo on Eve of Princeton Invitational]

#15 St. Francis Brooklyn (8-3); last weekend in Lewisburg, PA, the Terriers kept a hot start going, sweeping matches against #19 George Washington, Johns Hopkins and Washington & Jefferson—the programs best start since an NCAA run in 2013. Senior Will Lampkin and freshman Vladimir Mickic were recognized last week for their play at the Bison Invitational, and represent the depth SFC has this season—depth that will be challenged starting next Wednesday against NWPC foe Iona.

#16 Fordham (9-2; 3-0 MAWPC); besides the Crimson and the Terriers, the East’s hottest team is the Rams. They too swept the competition at the Bison Invitational, including host Bucknell. Head Coach Bill Harris has assembled a team that can challenge for an NCAA berth for the first time in decades; their next step in this direction are conference matches against George Washington and John Hopkins on Saturday in the Bronx.

#17 California Baptist (3-7; 0-1 WWPA); ten games into their season—with four of their losses by two goals or less—the Lancers got a big win last Saturday, when they beat San Jose State. Now it’s on to hosting WWPA foe Concordia on Friday, and UC San Diego next week.

#18 Bucknell (9-2; 2-1 MAWPC); freshman Andu Vlasceanu (19 goals, 9 assists) has filled in nicely as a new wingman for Rade Joksimovic. What’s curious is how a very talented Bison squad has stumbled against conference rival Fordham; with two weeks to prepare, Head Coach Jack McBride should have enough time to get his team ready for a tough road trip south for matches against George Washington, Johns Hopkins and Navy.

#19 George Washington (9-3); two of the Colonials’ early season losses have come from St. Francis Brooklyn; luckily GW will only face the Terriers again if they meet December in an NCAA play-in game. With three road matches this weekend against conference foes Fordham, La Salle and Wagner, Head Coach Barry King’s squad can deal with the season’s primary purpose: winning a third-straight MAWPC title.

#20 San Jose State (2-6); after opening the season with six-straight losses—including two goal losses to #4 Pacific and #8 Cal—the Spartans have won two straight. This is a welcome sign for SJSU coming into the MPSF Invite and a tall order; a match against the top-ranked UCSB.

1 comment

  1. avatar
    WPLover

    Thanks, great run down on the season so far!

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