CWPA Top 20: Stanford, UCLA, Pacific, USC Remain on Top; #9 Harvard East’s Top Team

September 28, 2019; Spieker Aquatics Complex, Los Angeles, CA, USA; MWP: UC Santa Barbara Gauchos vs UCLA Bruins; Photo credit: Catharyn Hayne
UCLA's Tommy Gruwell has been a great find for Head Coach Adam Wright. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

If there’s any doubt about just how strong Stanford is, it’s reflected in the statistics of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. The top two goal scorers in the MPSF so far this season are Cardinals: Ben Hallock (44 goals) and Tyler Abramson (40 goals, 15 assists). For good measure, Stanford’s Bennett Williams (31 goals) is sixth among players in the country’s top conference.

This is not the only reason Stanford has remained #1 in the Collegiate Water Polo Association’s Top 20 poll the past three weeks; goalie Andrew Chun has 115 saves so far for a defense that has yielded less than eight goals a game in nine contests—all wins—since a 15-10 loss to UC Santa Barbara, reflecting the the old adage that defense wins championships.

The most significant change in this week’s poll: Pepperdine leapfrogged Cal for sixth after the Waves beat the Golden Bears in overtime, their first win against Cal since 2008. Harvard moved up a spot, breaking into the Top 10 by virtue of two more wins that stretched the Crimson season-opening streak to 14.

#1 Stanford University (14-1); with convincing wins over Long Beach State, Santa Clara and UC Irvine last week, Stanford stretched its current win streak to nine. A hot Pepperdine squad (five straight wins) will make the trip next weekend to Avery Aquatic Center; the Waves haven’t beaten the Cardinal in 16 years—and only once in 27 matches. Given a spate of early season upsets, Head Coach John Vargas’ squad will not take Pepperdine for granted—even with an MPSF match-up against USC looming the following weekend.

#2 UCLA (11-1); with a second win over UC Santa Barbara on Friday—this time by the score of 15-11—the Bruins proved that they’re a strong second to Stanford. Leading the way in the win, as they have for much of the season, were Ashworth Molthen (three goals against the Gauchos; a team-high 26 goals, 21 assists) and freshman Tommy Gruwell (two goals; 17 on the season). Friday represents a big test for Head Coach Adam Wright’s squad; a visit by #3 Pacific to Spieker Aquatics Center. Saturday, DIII Whittier will come to town for an early evening match.

#3 Pacific (11-2); the Tigers are now leading this year’s rearrangement of the long-time hierarchy known as the “Big Four.” As they did in 2013, James Graham’s squad has demonstrated they can consistently beat the nation’s best; the latest data point is a second win over USC, which took place Saturday when Luis Araya delivered a brilliant helicopter score, the difference maker in a 12-11 win at home. With the win—the team’s fourth over a top five opponent this year—the Tigers accomplished something they’d never done before: two wins in a season over the Trojans. They’ll look to continue their best campaign in recent memory, traveling to Los Angeles to face the Bruins on Friday, then traveling to Santa Barbara on Sunday for a Golden Coast Conference match against UCSB.

[On Deck With Djordje Stanic of Pacific Men’s Water Polo]

#4 USC (9-2); just when it seemed the Trojans had turned the corner after early season losses to UCSB and Pacific, Head Coach Marko Pintaric’s club fell into a three-goal deficit on Sunday, rallied but still dropped a one-goal decision to the Tigers. Things do not get easier for Pinta and his crew; Pepperdine is in Los Angeles this weekend and then there’s a week off before a match against #1 Stanford at Uytengsu Aquatics Center.

September 28, 2019; Spieker Aquatics Complex, Los Angeles, CA, USA; MWP: USC Trojans vs University of the Pacific Tigers; Photo credit: Catharyn Hayne

Hannes Daube has 18 goals for USC this season. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

#5 UC Santa Barbara (15-4); as the expression goes you’re never as good as when you’re winning or as bad as when you’re losing. After an historic opening to their season, when they won 15 straight, the Gauchos have now dropped four in a row, including a defeat to UCLA last Friday. It was easily the team’s worst performance of the season; knowing how good they’ve played, the home match on Sunday against GCC foe Pacific may be a bellwether for the Gauchos.

#6 Pepperdine (15-5); three-deep in scoring—Marko Asic, Curtis Jarvis and Balazs Kosa have combined for 123 goals, almost half the team’s total—and the tandem of Kyle McKenney and Kent Emden in the Waves’ goal have proven to be a tremendous boost for Head Coach Terry Schroeder’s team. Last Saturday, his squad beat Cal for the first time in 14 years after a streak of 19 straight losses. Up next? a GCC match against UC Irvine Friday and then USC in Los Angeles on Saturday. The Waves’ streak against the Trojans? 20-straight losses since 2005.

#7 Long Beach State (10-8); if it appears that there’s a substantial drop-off after Pepperdine, that may be the reflected in a 49er squad that’s suffered five straight losses. All of them have been to higher-ranked opponents, including Stanford twice. The second Cardinal loss was last Saturday; next up is San Jose State on Saturday at home—a GCC match-up—which represents a great opportunity for LBS to end their losing streak and get a positive start in conference play.

#8 California-Berkeley (10-6); the last time the Golden Bears were ranked this low was 2008, when they were tied with UC Santa Barbara for sixth. A loss to Pepperdine has dropped Head Coach Kirk Everist’s squad to an unsightly position in the polls; luckily Cal has a weekend off to regroup before traveling next weekend for a meeting October 27th against UC Santa Barbara.

#9 Harvard (14-0; 5-0 NWPC); so far this season no one has been able to touch the Crimson, including conference foes Brown and MIT who last weekend became the latest victims in the program’s longest-ever winning streak. This weekend they host eight teams—including Bucknell and George Washington—at the Harvard Invitational. Can anyone beat the Crimson? The way Dennis Blyashov, Charlie Owen, Austin Sechrest, Alex Tstotadze and others are playing, perhaps Harvard will not lose in the regular season.

#10 UC San Diego (16-5; 4-0 WWPA); a 14-12 win over Loyola Marymount last Saturday extended the Tritons’ winning streak to nine. Conference foe Santa Clara travels to La Jolla for a match this Saturday; UCSD is in a stretch of three Western Water Polo Association matches over the next three weeks that will position them for the 2019 WWPA playoffs, to be hosted by Cal Baptist November 22 – 25 in Riverside, California.

#11 Loyola Marymount (6-8; 1-1 WWPA); a 14-12 loss to UCSD last weekend continues a two-year trend of tough outcomes for LMU; seven of their 14 games so far this season have been decided by two goals or less; last year it was nine matches. The Lions are close but need something to get over the hump; Thursday is a home match against WWPA foe Santa Clara; Saturday is travel date against Airforce, another conference foe, in Colorado Springs.

[On The Record with Tony Karaman, Referee and Former Water Polo Player and Coach]

#12 UC Irvine 13 (6-7) a 16-7 loss to Stanford last Sunday ends a streak of 13 matches against non-conference opponents; five of the Anteaters’ next eight are against GCC opponents, including Friday against Pepperdine and Sunday versus San Jose State.

#13 UC Davis (8-7; 2-0 WWPA); a 10-9 win last Saturday over Air Force ran the Aggies conference record to 2-0; matches this weekend against Fresno Pacific and Concordia gives Head Coach Dan Leyson a chance to stay undefeated in WWPA play. This is the stretch-run for UC Davis—six straight conference matches to close out the season, including a marquee match-up against UC San Diego on November 9 in La Jolla.

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Rade Joksimovic has 64 goals in 2019 to push his Bucknell career total to 452. Photo Courtesy: Alan Storey

#14 Bucknell (12-2; 5-1 MAWPC); the Bison stumbled against Fordham earlier this season, but a convincing win last Sunday over conference rival George Washington makes it six-straight wins for Head Coach Jack McBride’s team going into the Harvard Invitational this weekend. Among the teams Bucknell will face in Cambridge are the host Crimson; the Bison and their rookie goalie Adrien Touzot may have the best shot of knocking off the home team.

#15 George Washington (13-4; 4-1 MAWPC); a Colonial six-game winning streak was snapped by Bucknell last weekend, all of which was accomplished without last year’s leading scorer Atakan Destici, who has been out since early in the season. That GW has thrived in his absence is a testament to the talent and depth on Head Coach Barry King’s squad; missing the multi-talented Destici this weekend at the Harvard Invite will make it a difficult weekend against tough Eastern foes Brown, MIT, St. Francis and the host Crimson—but it’s never wise to count the Colonials out.

#16 Fordham (15-4; 4-1 MAWPC); a strong season for the Rams could be even more rewarding if they can get past conference foe Navy and Eastern power Princeton this weekend in the Bronx. Fordham had its way with the Middies the past five years until Luis Nicolao returned to Annapolis; in 2018 Navy took two of three meetings and this season a young USNA squad has played conference foes tight, including an 11-10 loss last weekend. In 14 meetings, the Rams have never beaten the Tigers making a win Saturday night that much more compelling.

#17 Pomona-Pitzer (12-7; 5-2 SCIAC); three-straight weekend wins against Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference opponents offsets a loss last Wednesday to Claremont-Mudd Scripps, which has put the Sage Hens in an unfamiliar position: looking up in the SCIAC standings. Whitter (5-0) is undefeated in conference play, but the battle between the winners of five of six previous conference titles will wait for another day. This weekend Pomona will travel East for the Harvard Invitational; Head Coach Alex Rodriguez’s team will play four matches including a Saturday afternoon against the Crimson.

#18 Princeton (10-9; 4-1 NWPC); when offered a gift, it’s best to accept it without question. Which the Tigers did last weekend; instead of having to weather St. Francis Brooklyn’s tank of terrors, a pool malfunction entailed a fortuitous switch Sunday to the Tigers’ home facility. A surprisingly easy 13-5 win over the Terriers continued a string of success for Dusty Litvak’s squad. Rather than take the trip to Cambridge this weekend, Princeton will stay in the NYC metropolitan region and hope to get a win in the Bronx before a trip West next weekend for the Julian Fraser Memorial Tournament in Santa Clara.

#19 San Jose State (3-11); it’s been a tough season so far for the Spartans, with few wins against quality opponents. Like Loyola Marymount, SJS has been a hard luck loser, with nine matches decided by two goals or less. A pair of matches this weekend against GCC foes Long Beach State and UC Irvine open the Spartans’ conference schedule—and offers Head Coach Bruce Watson’s squad a shot to turn their season around.

#20 (T) St. Francis Brooklyn (11-5; 3-2 NWPC); last Saturday the Terriers were set for a big home match against a tough conference foe. An afternoon matinee was also alumni day for an SFC program that for the past two decades has been among the East’s best. Alas, a pool malfunction doomed the festivities and forced St; Francis to convert a precious home game to a road contest in New Jersey—which host Princeton won in convincing fashion. The worst part of this tale is that last year the Terriers absolutely smoked the Tigers at the Pope. They’ll look to get back on the winning path this weekend in Cambridge when they face Bucknell, George Washington, La Salle and Wagner.

#20 (T) California Baptist (9-11; 1-2 WWPA); last weekend’s Lancer Joust turned into a rout for host CBU; they beat three teams with a cumulative record of 8-44 to run their win streak to four-straight. It will end Saturday as the Lancers travel to UCLA to face the mighty Bruins, who they haven’t beaten in two decades.