There’s a LOT to Look Forward to at the 2019 NCAA Men’s Water Polo Championship

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USC and Stanford met in the NCAA final last year but the two MPSF foes are on a collision course for a rematch in the 2019 semifinals. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

And then there were six. The Bucknell Bison opened the 2019 Men’s NCAA Water Polo Tournament with a hard fought 13-12 victory in the opening round against the 29-0 Harvard Crimson at Blodgett Pool in Cambridge, MA.  In the survive and advance portion of the season, John McBride’s team earned a trip to Stockton to face #4 seed USC (14-5), the defending national champions, on December 5 at 1:00 PM at the University of the Pacific.

[Bison Ride Roughshod Over Undefeated Harvard in NCAA Men’s Water Polo Contest]

The Trojans earned an at large bid with a strong November (5-1) after suffering early season losses to Golden Coast Conference (GCC) foes UCSB, Pacific (twice) and Pepperdine. First year Head Coach Marko Pintaric guided the Trojans to the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) regular season championship, going 3-0 and taking down two #1 ranked teams in Stanford and UCLA along the way. Not only has USC gone to the national tournament every year since 2005, Pintaric and his team are looking to get back to a fifteenth-straight NCAA final.

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The winner advances to the semifinal with Stanford Saturday night. The Cardinal (19-2) are the tournament’s top seed, winning both the SoCal Invitational in September and the MPSF conference tournament championship last month. Head Coach Jon Vargas’ squad averages nearly 16 goals per game and reigning Cutino Award winner Ben Hallock is the straw that stirs the drink for Stanford, with 57 goals despite frequent double teams by opponents. The Cardinal dominated the MPSF championship game with traditional rival California despite Hallock’s disqualification in the first half. Their success during his absence shows how well coached and resilient they are in 2019.

Stanford, CA; December 2, 2018; Men's Water Polo, Stanford vs USC.

Ben Hallock, Stanford. Photo Courtesy: Hector Garcia-Molina

On the other side of the bracket, quarterfinal play begins with GCC champion Pepperdine (24-7) facing off for the first time in 2019 with WWPA champion UC Davis (16-7) on December 5 at Pacific at 2:45 pm. Terry Schroeder has the Waves in the tournament for the first time since he led them to an NCAA title in 1997. Pepperdine was 7-0 in November and knocked off at-large entrant USC 13-12 in October. Their opponent will be UC Davis, winners of their last 9 games, which included a spotless 7-0 WWPA slate and 2 victories in the WWPA Championship tourney.

Dan Leyson’s Aggies rely on defense, holding opponents to less than 7 goals per game during their recent win streak. Senior Balazs Kosa (86 goals) leads a prolific Wave offense which averages 13 goals per game. Marko Asic (57 goals), Pepperdine’s third-leading scorer who missed the GCC tournament due to suspensions, returns for the match with UC Davis.

[Pacific, Not UCLA, in as At-Large Team for 2019 NCAA Men’s Water Polo Tournament]

The winner will face #2 seed and tournament host Pacific in the semifinal at 7:00 PM on December 7. James Graham’s Tigers (16-5) earned an at-large invitation to the tournament through 5-0 regular season GCC play and signature wins against MPSF members CAL and USC twice. The Tigers stumbled in the recent GCC tournament, falling to rivals Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara. They boast the 3-time GCC player of the year in Luke Pavillard and a balanced attack which includes 5 players logging more than 30 goals each. Pacific owns regular season victories over both the Waves (15-8) and the Aggies (11-8) this season.

Balazs Kosa Pepperdine

Balazs Kosa, Pepperdine. Photo Courtesy: Minette Rubin

The Championship game is guaranteed to match institutions from different conferences for the first time since 2013, when a late comeback enabled USC to beat Pacific in an overtime thriller at Stanford.  In a format change, the semi-finals will be played under the lights on Pacific’s Stockton Campus, beginning at 5 PM and 7 PM local time on Saturday evening. The Chris Kjeldsen Pool is sold out for the weekend games and promises to deliver an exciting atmosphere. Sunday’s final will begin at 3:00 PM Pacific time.

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