Day One of 2019 WWPA Conference Championships

December 1, 2018; , Palo Alto, CA, USA; Collegiate Men's Water Polo:NCAA Semi Finals: UC San Diego Tritons vs Stanford Cardinals; Photo credit: Catharyn Hayne
UC San Diego's Skyler Munatones came up big for the Tritons against Air Force. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne
Friday was the first day of a long conference championship weekend that will result in conference champions crowned and NCAA qualifiers decided across the country.

From the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, Golden Coast Conference, Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and the Western Water Polo Association on the West Coast to the Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference and Northeast Water Polo Conference on the East Coast, Day 1 largely followed the predictions of prognosticators. All the favored teams – except for one notable exception – won round one.

[Loyola Marymount, Pomona-Pitzer Fall as NCAA Men’s Water Polo Opens Postseason Play on Both Coasts]

The expected victories – and one upset – set up Day 2 that will a day-long showcase of traditional rivals fighting to stay alive and realize their NCAA dreams.

The Western Water Polo Association (WWPA) unfolded as predicted when the top-seed and #10-ranked University of California Davis manhandled Fresno Pacific University 21-3. Sophomore Matthew Whipple from Park City, Utah scored a career-high four goals to lead the Aggies that were up 5-1 in the first, 9-2 at the half, and cruised to an easy victory over the #8-seeded Sunbirds.

The Aggies are on a roll as they easily won their seventh straight game and look forward to returning to the NCAA’s after losing to UC San Diego at last year’s conference championships.

UC Davis will face the host team and #17-ranked California Baptist University that jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead over Concordia University.  Two-meter Logan Mena fueled his teammates with senior leadership together with 3 goals and an assist.  After shooting out to a dominant lead, CBU Coach Kevin Rosa liberally substituted throughout the 12-6 victory to move into the semifinal game.

Back in September, UC Davis handled CBU a 13-6 loss and has won 21 of 28 games against CBU since 1999. So the pressure is on the host team whose fans will cover the pool deck at the Lancer Aquatic Center in Riverside, California.

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Missing in action: Connor Turnbow-Lindenstadt (center). Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

In the third game of the day, the defending conference champions UC San Diego looked sluggish as they quickly fell behind 2-0 to the Air Force Academy. But senior co-captain Skyler Munatones twice assisted his teammates and scored 4 goals to help push the #11-ranked and second-seeded Tritons to a 14-10 victory over the Falcons.

In the last game of the evening, unranked Santa Clara University unexpectedly upset #12-ranked Loyola Marymount University in a thrilling overtime game 11-10.

It was just not LMU’s day. WWPA Player of the Year sophomore Blazo Mitrovic from Przno, Montenegro​ was rolled with 3:07 left in the game while LMU was up by a goal, 8-7. And the evening would be for the Broncos to celebrate. Not only did lefty senior Mac Carey from Loyola High School in Southern California tie up the game with 2 seconds to go, he also scored the eventual game-winner in the second overtime.

Santa Clara will face UC San Diego in the other semifinal. A month ago, Santa Clara and UC San Diego were tied 6 times during a game eventually won by the Tritons 12-10.  But the 15-11 Broncos have won 4 straight games and are playing their best at the most opportune time.

The 7th-place game will pit Air Force Academy versus Fresno Pacific while the 5th-place game will see LMU and Concordia face off.

The championship game will be held on Sunday at 12 noon.

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