CWPA Men’s Varsity Water Polo Top Ten: #3 UCLA vs. #4 Cal Weekend’s Marquee Match-Up

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Jacob Mercep, USC's powerful lefty. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

It’s Week Eight of the 2018 NCAA men’s varsity season. Not only are the latest rankings in the Collegiate Water Polo Association stabilizing, but—with a weekend full of games against each other—the country’s top ten teams are in for some impressive action.

The marquee match-up is a battle between Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) stalwarts #3 UCLA and #4 Cal. The Bruins (19-1) got tagged with their season’s only loss two weeks ago at the Mountain Pacific Invitational, when host Stanford beat them 8-7 in the semifinals. In a strange scheduling quirk, UCLA will play Cal (15-3) in back-to-back matches—separated by two weeks. In the previous match-up, the Bruins triumphed behind a career-high four goals by sophomore Luke Henriksson. A return to the Bay Area, this time to Cal’s campus, makes this a treacherous double-header for Adam Wright’s team; a win puts them on the right path in the MPSF.

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The unstoppable Mister Hooper. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

Cal, which—in addition to the decision against UCLA—has sustained losses to #1 USC and #15 Harvard, remains a very dangerous opponent due to the scoring prowess of Johnny Hooper (37 goals in nine games) and Safak Simsek (37 goals). Question is: does the Golden Bear offense (14 goal a game average) trump the Bruins’ defense (almost 7 goals allowed per game)? Perhaps UCLA goalie Alex Wolf will be the difference maker; he had 14 saves in the game on October 14.

All the action will be live-streamed on the Pac12 Network.

After taking down two ranked opponents last weekend—#7 Pepperdine and #8 Long Beach State—the top-ranked Trojans of USC (24-1; 0-1 MPSF) will look to extend a three-match winning streak against Top Ten opponents with a Sunday match-up against #5 Pacific. The Tigers have been playing well of late, as their two main scoring options—Luke Pavillard (55 goals) and Engin Ege Colak (53 goals) continued to produce. Having already tagged the Tigers with an 11-8 loss earlier this season, the Men of Troy will look to their young talents sophomore Marko Vavic (49 goals—already broken the century scoring mark in a little over a season and a half) lefty sharpshooter Jacob Mercep (47 goals) and freshman Hannes Daube (42 goals in 6 weeks of donning the cardinal and gold) to extend their time at the top.

#2 Stanford (15-1; 1-0) dropped a one-goal decision to USC in the MPSF Invitational final, the Cardinal’s first and only loss of the season. They immediately bounced back with wins against Wagner and Pacific, and this weekend appears to be the calm before the storm of MPSF play on November 3, when the Cardinal travel to Los Angeles for a showdown with the Bruins. Before that happens, Stanford will host two Golden Coast Conference teams that—if overlooked—might cause the Cardinal fits. On Saturday, #9 UC Davis is at Avery Aquatic Center; on Sunday # 11 UC Irvine.

The biggest jump up in the Top Ten was Pacific (9-8; GCC 2-0) from seventh to number five, based on a 12-11 win over the UC Santa Barbara. The Gauchos (16-8; 1-1 GCC) dropped to #6, and will look to break a two-match losing streak, to the Tigers and to Cal, with a match later today against Long Beach State. In those loses—both by one goal—UCSB got plenty of scoring from Boris Jovanovic (8 goals—a team-high 71 on the year) but let a lead slip away against Pacific and couldn’t hold back Hooper (six scores) against Cal.

#7 Pepperdine (12-9; 2-0 GCC) dropped a 17-6 decision to the Trojans last Sunday; this weekend they host Tigers both days; Pacific comes to Malibu tomorrow in an important GCC contest and #13 Princeton—currently the East’s top-ranked team—flies from New Jersey for five matches over five days against West Coast squads. A win by the Waves over Pacific would put them in great position for top seeding in the GCC tournament three weeks from now. By the way, the site for this year’s tourney is: Pepperdine.

Despite losing nine of their past ten, the 49ers of #8 Long Beach State (7-10; 0-1 GCC) are still in the Top Ten; a win today against host UC Santa Barbara will justify their lofty ranking

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UCSD’s Skyler Munatones. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

Moving to the Western Water Polo Association, #9 University of California-Davis (14-5; 5-0 WWPA) has plays Stanford tomorrow at noon (PST) and then two final obstacles to a perfect WWPA regular season: #20 Loyola Marymount next Thursday and then a rematch against #10 UC San Diego on Saturday, November 1.

The Tritons (13-5; 4-1 WWPA) may still be smarting about a 12-11 loss against the Aggies at the MPSF Invitational; that was officially a non-conference match-up, so the one that counts is a week away and in Davis. Tomorrow they host Princeton and then rest up for round two between WWPA contenders.

With Connor Turnbow-Lindenstadt leading the way with 53 goals and Skyler Munatones delivering 31 goals and 22 assists, will Denny Harper’s squad have enough to unseat the two-time conference winners on the road? Wait to find out next week at Swimming World.