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

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After three-straight SCIAC titles, Alex Rodriguez and the Pomona-Pitzer men's team are going home early in 2019. Photo Courtesy: Pomona-Pitzer Athletics

Friday saw the opening of tournament play in five conferences that will send teams to the 2019 NCAA Men’s Water Polo Tournament as well as the one Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, which will send Whittier and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps to the new DIII Collegiate Championships, no matter what the outcome of Sunday’s SCIAC final.

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As was to be expected, there were upsets and near misses on Day One. Perhaps the biggest upset was Pomona-Pitzer — three-time reigning SCIAC champions — going down to defeat in one of two semifinals. This not only advances the Stags to a spot in their conference title match, it guarantees them one of two spots from the SCIAC in the DIII championship. The other spot in the DIII Final Four was filled by Whittier, a 12-7 winner over Redlands. Sunday’s final at Whittier’s Lillian Slade Aquatics Center. Whoever wins this match will host the new Collegiate Championships, which will also include Eastern DIII squads Johns Hopkins and MIT.

The day’s biggest upset belonged to Santa Clara in the Western Water Polo Association (WWPA). The Broncos, seeded sixth, went to overtime to knocked off #3 seed Loyola Marymount. All the coverage for the 2019 WWPA Tournament is being provided by Swimming World contributor Steven Munatones.

[Day One of 2019 WWPA Conference Championships]

Also noteworthy from the WWPA is that Connor Turnbow-Lindenstadt, UC San Diego’s dynamic scorer (63 goals, 32 assists) who was a 2019 All-WWPA First Team selection, did not make the trip to Riverside, California for the tournament. This further complicates Triton Head Coach Denny Harper’s challenge in steering his team to a repeat as WWPA champions.

Updates from the Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference

Mike Naughton, long-time collegiate referee as well as a high school coach from Broward Florida, provided updates from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.

The biggest story out of the Kinney Natatorium was La Salle, the eighth seed, going toe-to-toe with top-seeded Bucknell. As Naughton reported, the score was tied at 10 after three, Bucknell scored three quick goals and coasted home. He cited La Salle’s Daniel Domotor as “playing great in this game…five goals” for the Explorers.

He cited the Bison’s Rade Joksimovic, who had five goals and Logan Schfield with two goals, two drawn penalties, three drawn exclusions.

#4 Navy did not have an easy time with fifth-seeded Wagner, with Navy leading Wagner 8-6 at halftime. Key was that USNA Head Coach Luis Nicolao had his program’s vaunted counter attack going strong. As Naughton noted this is one of the things missing when the Middies were uncharacteristically scuffling following the departure of Head Coach Mike Schofield in 2013.

[On The Record with Mike Schofield, Legendary Navy Water Polo Coach Turned Referee]

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Bill Harris, Oscar Nomora, Brian Bacharach. Photo Courtesy: M. Randazzo

“Not so in Mladen’s years,” Naughton quipped about the absence of a counter during former head coach Mladen Stanicic’s tenure from 2013 – 17. Final: Navy 16-12 over Wagner. Issac Salinas of Navy had four goals and Oliver Fodor scored six goals but was shut out in 4th period

Another tight contest early was #2 Fordham versus #7 Gannon. The Golden Knights were champions from the MAWPC-West; Fordham is enjoying it’s best season during head Coach Bill Harris’ 16-year tenure in the Bronx.

“Fordham looks like they are saving themselves for tomorrow,” Naughton wrote; with a win the Rams would likely be matched up with two-time defending MAWPC champs George Washington. After three periods, Fordham led 9-6 with “A bit more effort for Fordham,” to lead to an 11-6 Fordham Final.

At half #3 George Washington led #6 Johns Hopkins 8-4; it narrowed to 10-7 for the Colonials after three, but GW exploded for a 17-9 final as Andras Levai, Henry Maas and DJ Davis tallied three goals apiece.

Saturday, Bucknell will face Navy while Fordham will face George Washington. Johns Hopkins’ season will also continue, though in a different format. By virtue of their win in last month’s DIII Eastern Championship, the Blue Jays are ticketed for the DIII Collegiate Championship to be played next month in California.

Updates from the Golden Coast Conference

The country’s second-best water polo conference saw all top seeds advance to Saturday’s semifinal round. In the most closely watched match, #3 seed UC Santa Barbara held off an upset bid by #6 UC Irvine as Cole Brosnan, one of the players ejected from last Saturday’s wild match at Pepperdine, scored three times and dished out two assists. Brosnan was not part of a wild melee between Gaucho and Wave players that occurred at the end of the third period in a match Pepperdine won 17-10.

Missing yesterday as a result of ejections to fighting were UCSB players Tommy Hawkins, Connor Moynihan, Spencer Wood, and Leo Yuno. With the 13-9 win over the Anteaters, the Gauchos advance to a rematch with the Waves, who are hosts for the 2019 GCC Tournament. These players will not play in today’s semifinal match — the fifth meeting this season between Pepperdine and UCSB. Also missing for the Gauchos will be Head Coach Wolf Wigo, who was red-carded at the end of the match.

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On Saturday, UCSB Head Coach Wolf Wigo will be watching his team from the stands. Photo Courtesy: UCSB Athletics

The host Waves have two players serving suspensions as a result of last week’s brawl; the most important loss by far is senior Marko Asic. With 57 goals this season, Asic is the number two scorer for Pepperdine this season and is fourth all-time in the Waves record book (239 goals). This, and the loss of Michael Dakis leaves Waves Head Coach Terry Schroeder at a disadvantage going into a grudge match.

[Matches in Malibu and the Bronx Impact CWPA Top 20 and Postseason Play]

In the other bracket, #4 Long Beach State beat San Jose State 8-4. This sets up the other semifinal match up between the 49ers and top seed Pacific, which is hoping to repeat as GCC champions.

Starting Saturday, Swimming World contributor Bill Cohn will report on the action at Raleigh Runnels Memorial Pool in Malibu.

Updates from the Northeast Water Polo Conference

A game of some interest in the opening round of the NWPC tournament was the match between host MIT and St. Francis Brooklyn. Missing leading scorer Ivan Stefanovic — who was asked to leave the team following a trip last month to California — the Terriers had struggled in their last four matches, including a narrow 12-11 win over the Engineers in Cambridge. Not on Friday; St. Francis raced out to an 8-2 lead at halftime, then finished off MIT with a seven goal flourish in the fourth period, winning 18-8. The win puts the Terriers in a semifinal opposite undefeated Harvard.

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Photo Courtesy: MIT Athletics

On the other side of the bracket, Brown struggled to beat Iona 13-11. The Gaels narrowed what was once a four-goal advantage to two with five minutes remaining in the match before the Bears held on for the win. Princeton, the tournament’s second seed, will face Brown in the day’s second semifinal.

Updates from the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation

The most notable development from the opening day of the 2019 MPSF Tournament is that the Kangaroos of Austin got a huge performance out of Max Wade (three goals) and Cade Griffith (two scores) to knock off Penn State Behrend 10-9 in the first match of the day at Cal’s Spieker Aquatics Complex. Griffith scored the game winner with 26 seconds left to give Austin it’s fourth win of the season. In their next match, the Kangaroos were manhandled by 22-3 by the host Golden Bears. Penn State Behrend also got waxed by a Pac-12 power, as UCLA scored 16 of the first 17 goals in the match on its way to a 27-4 win over the Nittany Lions.

This sets up the showdown of the Big Four that will likely determine three berths in the NCAA tournament — as the nation’s top three teams, Stanford, USC and UCLA — and perennial NCAA champion Cal will play for the MPSF title. Up on Saturday: a pair of rematches from last week. USC, a 14-13 winner over Cal last Saturday at Spieker, will look to again subdue the Golden Bears. After inflicting the worst loss of Head Coach Adam Wright’s tenure at UCLA, Stanford will again face the Bruins.

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