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

September 28, 2019; Spieker Aquatics Complex, Los Angeles, CA, USA; MWP: UC Santa Barbara Gauchos vs UCLA Bruins; Photo credit: Catharyn Hayne
Cole Brosnan, seen here shooting against UCLA, was at the center of a melee last Saturday that threatens to doom UC Santa Barbara's stirring season. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

With the postseason for every NCAA varsity conference slated to begin this Friday, there was little change in the rankings of the Collegiate Water Polo Association’s Top 20 poll. There was, however, a couple of noteworthy matches last week that have impact on this weekend’s postseason action.

A much-discussed match was Pepperdine vs. UC Santa Barbara match last Saturday in Malibu. A wild melee at the end of the third period resulted in six ejections — four Gauchos were rolled as were two Waves players — penalties that will be enforced during the Golden Coast Conference tournament. UCSB starter Cole Brosnan will miss Friday’s opening match against UC Irvine; Gaughos Spencer Wood, Tommy Hawkins, Connor Moynihan as well as Leo Yuno —also a starter — will miss both Friday’s and Saturday’s matches, should UCSB win on Friday.

The Pepperdine players who will sit out two games are starter Marko Asic and Michael Dakis. Because the Waves won 17-10 over the Gauchos, they earned a bye into the semifinals, meaning Asic and Dakis are done for the season if Pepperdine does not advance to NCAAs. With the win the Waves rose to fifth in the CWPA Top 20.

Another key match was in the Bronx, where Fordham had an opportunity to capture a conference title outright for the first time in a decade. Bucknell, the Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference regular season winner the past three year, faced the host Rams in a contest that would determine top seeding in the upcoming MAWPC tournament. The home team did not put up enough of a fight, losing 9-6 to the visiting Bison and finishing second in the conference, just ahead of George Washington based on a tie-breaker.

[Swimming World’s Guide to ALL 2019 Men’s Water Polo Conference Tournaments]

#1 (T) USC (13-4; 3-0 MPSF); the CWPA poll has Stanford ahead of USC (it’s alphabetical; each team got the same number of votes). But, can anyone question which MPSF team is playing its best ball at the moment? With a narrow win over Cal last Saturday, the Trojans made it three straight over conference opponents. Head Coach Marko Pintaric’s squad was scuffing along until they remembered that they are the defending national champions — and Marin Dasic (36 goals) was free to shoot at will. He’s done well of late, scoring 9 times in USC’s current four-match win streak. What’s got to strike fear in the hearts of USC opponents is that Hannes Daube (30 goals), one of the country’s best pure shooters, has 20+ assists this season. That, and he just torched the Golden Bears for four goals. Now, it’s on to the MPSF tournament; no one should doubt this team given what they’ve been through the last nine months.

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At the MPSF Tournament this weekend, UCLA goalie Alex Wolf will be a factor. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

#1 (T) Stanford (17-2; 2-1 MPSF); this week Ben Hallock (62 goals) was named MPSF Player of the Year for the second straight year. Hallock was joined on the All-MPSF first team by Tyler Abramson (50 goals), Bennett Williams (41 goals) and goalie Andrew Chun, while Cardinal Head Coach John Vargas was named his conference’s coach of the year. A win last weekend over UCLA should set Stanford on a path to a strong showing at the MPSF Tournament starting this Saturday, as the Cardinal and Trojans both got byes into the semi-finals. Tied with USC for the top spot, it seems that Vargas’ squad has slipped behind the Trojans. They get to prove otherwise this weekend.

#3 UCLA (16-3; 1-2 MPSF); according to The Daily Bruin, UCLA’s 11-7 loss to Stanford last weekend was the program’s worst to the Cardinal since a 12-2 shellacking in 2008. It’s also the largest loss of the Adam Wright tenure – which began in 2009. Going down 8-2 and 11-3 in the first half to a conference foe is not a good way to prepare for the postseason. On the other hand, Wright is a master motivator, and a possible silver lining from the debacle at Avery is that Alex Wolf was not in goal — which should have been obvious, because the national team goalie would never give up 17 goals to anyone. Expect better from the Bruins this weekend.

#4 Pacific (16-3; 5-0 GCC); with a convincing win over San Jose State last Saturday, the Tigers completed their second undefeated GCC regular season in the past three years. Head Coach James Graham has a core of accomplished upperclassmen, headlined by Luke Pavillard (54 goals, 27 assists), three-time GCC Player of the Year — and some outstanding newcomers, including freshman Jeremie Cote (46 goals, 24 assists) who was named 2019 GCC Newcomer of the Year. This makes the Tigers a strong favorite to get back to the NCAAs for the third time in four years. What will also help Pacific is that the #2 and #3 seeds in the GCC tournament are both dealing with major suspensions; in some ways second-seeded Pepperdine is worse off because Marko Asic, their third-leading scorer, will not play at all this weekend, a huge break for the Tigers.

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Marko Asic may have played his last match for the Waves. Photo Courtesy: Pepperdine Athletics

#5 Pepperdine (22-7; 4-1 GCC); it’s worth noting how much the Waves lost in their win last Saturday over UC Santa Barbara. Sure, they clinched second place in the conference, earned a bye into the semis and beat UCSB after three losses this season. Dakis may not be a starter but Asic is, ringing up 57 goals — good for second on the team. If Pepperdine does not win the GCC, Asic’s college career is over. Oh, and guess who the Waves are likely to play on Saturday in Malibu? The Gauchos.

#6 UC Santa Barbara (19-6; 3-2 GCC); 2019 has been a season of streaks for the Gauchos. 16 straight wins to start the season followed by five losses and then four wins. Now, a costly loss last weekend puts Head Coach Wolf Wigo’s team in a difficult spot; if they win their opening round game Friday against UC Irvine, UCSB will face a fired-up Pepperdine squad that was holding a substantial lead before Saturday’s brawl in the Raleigh Runnels Memorial Pool. The Gauchos have stood up to adversity all season; they now have a monumental task ahead of them in clinching an NCAA berth for the first time since 1990.

[UC Santa Barbara Men’s Water Polo Looks to Shake Off Impact of NCAA Sanctions]

#7 Cal-Berkeley (15-10; 0-3 MPSF); if there’s a silver lining to what has otherwise been a disappointing year for the Golden Bears, it’s that they will likely be much improved in 2020. Cal’s Adrian Weinberg and Warren Loth both made the U.S. Junior squad that will compete next month in the 2019 FINA Men’s Junior World Championship in Kuwait. Freshman Nikolaos Papanikolaou was tabbed as 2019 MPSF Newcomer of the Year. Problem is, this is not next year — and Cal is looking at a season when their only win in conference play is over Austin College or Penn State Behrend. They host MPSFs this year; perhaps a surprising run to a title — and an unlikely NCAA berth — is in the Golden Bears’ weekend plans.

#8 Long Beach State (16-12; 2-3 GCC); the 49ers picked up two wins last week, including an 11-8 victory over conference foe UC Irvine. They’ll go into the GCC tournament having won three out of four, which may be enough to get them going at the right time. LBS will play San Jose State on Friday; a win puts the 49ers into the semifinals against top-seed Pacific, who they upset in the finals last year.

#9 Harvard (27-0; 10-0 NWPC); the Crimson, after a two-week layoff, on Saturday will face the winner of Friday’s MIT vs. St. Francis Brooklyn match. It’s safe to assume the Terriers will advance — they’ve lost once to the Engineers in the past 24 meetings between the two teams. Harvard has beaten SFC six straight times — the Crimson’s longest winning streak ever against the Brooklynites. Can anyone stop Ted Minnis’ unbeaten team? Will the long layoff be a factor in how Harvard performs in seeking to extend the best winning streak in program history? Hard to believe that could happen but the Terriers are talented and certainly capable of the upset.

[Twenty-seven and 0? Wow! But Harvard Men’s Water Polo Has More to Prove]

#10 UC Davis 10 (13-7; 7-0); another team enjoying a lengthy layoff, UC Davis will look to get the cobwebs out on Friday against Fresno Pacific, in the opening day of the WWPA tournament. A win against the Sunbirds will propel the Aggies into a semi-final against the winner of Concordia and host Cal Baptists. This seems to be the easier path to Sunday’s WWPA final than UC San Diego, which will likely have to go through Loyola Marymount.

#11 UC San Diego (18-7; 6-1 WWPA); outside of a couple of scrimmages against club teams, UCSD has not played since a 9-7 loss two weeks ago to UC Davis. That decision determined seeding in the WWPA playoffs; the second-seeded Tritons will face Air Force to open their defense of the title they won last year. Looming in a WWPA semifinal is Loyola Marymount; in September the Lions won a high-scoring match against the Tritons, making UCSD’s run to a second-straight title that much more challenging.

#12 Loyola Marymount (13-11; 5-2 WWPA); the Lions open WWPA postseason play against Santa Clara, a team they beat by six goals earlier this season. But the key to their season will be a possible semifinal match against UCSD. LMU’s win was two months ago, and it was the first time the Lions won against the perennial WWPA power after six straight losses. The Tritons got revenge in early October, tagging a 14-12 loss on the Lions. First, LMU has to take care of business against a Bronco team on a three-game win streak.

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Bucknell’s Rade Joksimovic. Photo Courtesy: Bucknell Athletics

#13 (T) Bucknell University (19-8; 10-2 MAWPC); barring a major upset in the Northeast Water Polo Conference Tournament, Rade Joksimovic, the superb Serbian scorer, will play his last-ever matches in front of Bison fans. Bucknell is hosting the MAWPC tournament, meaning Joksimovic’s considerable talents will be showcased at the Kinney Natatorium — likely for all three days. The Bison open against La Salle, then will probably face an up-and-coming Navy squad to get to the MAWPC final for the third time in Joksimovic’s four seasons in Lewisburg.

#13 (T) San Jose State (7-18; 1-4 GCC); if progress is measured by wins and losses, the numbers don’t look so good for a Spartan squad now in its fifth season since the program was reinstated after a 34-year layoff. The win total for 2019 was half of what it was in 2017. But, a win this weekend at the GCC tournament will lift SJSU out of the conference cellar for the first time since the program’s rebirth in 2015. The Spartans open Friday against Long Beach State; a win over the 49ers puts them in a match against top-seeded Pacific.

#15 UC Irvine (7-14; 0-5 GCC); 10 days ago the Anteaters snapped a 10-match losing streak with a convincing win over DII Concordia — then promptly lost their final regular season game against conference foe Long Beach State. They open the GCC playoffs on Friday against third-seed UC Santa Barbara, which will be dealing with suspensions to four players. If there was ever a time for a proud program to make a statement, this would be it.

#16 Fordham (23-6; 9-3 MAWPC); it was the biggest match at the Col. Francis B. Messmore Aquatic Center in Bill Harris’ 16 years as Fordham head coach, with Bucknell, the conference leader, traveling to the Bronx to face the Rams. The winner was virtually assured of being the top season in the MAWPC tournament. Fordham fell behind 3-1 in the first period and never recovered, dropping a 9-6 decision to the Bison. The Rams did rally later in the day, closing out the regular season with a narrow 11-10 win over La Salle. They open postseason play against Gannon, which qualified for the tournament as the MAWPC-West champs. A win likely pits Fordham against reigning MAWPC champs George Washington.

#17 Cal Baptist (15-14; 4-3 WWPA); the Lancers sprinted to the finish of their regular season, winning 10 0f 13 contests, including four of five against conference foes. Hosts of the WWPA tournament, Cal Baptist should be a tough out for top-seeded UC Davis, who they will likely meet if the Lancers get past Concordia in a first round match-up on Friday. The Lancers lost to the Aggies 13-6 more than two month ago; it’s not an accurate gauge where this team is now. Plus, CBU is dangerous at home, going 21-7 in Riverside the past three seasons with only four losses to WWPA foes.

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Destici (with ball) and Joksimovic; regular adversaries in the MAWPC tournament. Photo Courtesy: Gloria Kushel

#18 George Washington (20-8; 9-3 MAWPC); in matches that attacker Atakan Destici has played this season, the Colonials are 12-4; in limited action he’s still been able to rack up impressive offensive numbers (30 goals, 37 assists). GW is simply a much better team when their top playmaker is in the water. He’s healthy this weekend, and the Colonials are the two-time defending MAWPC champions. They open the defense of their title Friday with a match against Johns Hopkins; a win likely puts them in the semifinals against Fordham.

#19 (T) Brown (22-10; 6-4 NWPC); the Bears open their postseason Friday against Iona; an expected win puts them in a semifinal match-up against Princeton, against who they have split two decisions this season. A late season run has positioned Brown for a possible finals match-up against top-seeded Harvard in the MAWPC final; a win against the Tigers would make a successful season for Head Coach Felix Mercado.

#19 (T) Princeton (15-14; 7-3 NWPC); the Tigers have split their last six games, with the most significant losses coming to Ivy rivals Brown and Harvard. Still, they finished second in the NWPC for the second straight year, ensuring that they’ll face the Crimson in the finals. Head Coach Dusty Litvak has the talent and the smarts to beat Harvard again; his team likely will have to get past the Bears for the opportunity.

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