MPSF Invite Win Propels Stanford Back to # 1 in CWPA Top 20 Poll

September 28, 2019; Spieker Aquatics Complex, Los Angeles, CA, USA; MWP: UC Santa Barbara Gauchos vs UCLA Bruins; Photo credit: Catharyn Hayne
UC Santa Barabara, last week's #1, was taken down by UCLA in an MPSF Invite semifinal match. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

The MPSF Invitational—also known as the SoCal Invitational—has been a reliable measure of which of the Big Four, as Cal, Stanford, UCLA and USC are collectively identified, is the top dog in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation and, ultimately, the national championship. In the last 10 years, the MPSF/SoCal winner has also taken the NCAA title seven times—a consistent barometer of success.

Stanford, which had lost to UC Santa Barbara two weeks ago, knocking the Cardinal out of the top spot, outlasted the competition to win an MPSF Invite title for the first time in almost a decade, and capture top billing in the latest Collegiate Water Polo Association Top 20 poll. Taking some of the luster out of the big weekend jointly hosted by UCLA and LMU, the Trojans and Golden Bears were relegated to a fifth place game, a perhaps not unexpected development in a season that has seen a shake-up of the NCAA men’s water polo hierarchy.

[Notes from a Memorable Start to the 2019 NCAA Men’s Water Polo Season]

Other big winners this week: Pacific, which beat UC Santa Barbara and dropped a one-goal decision to Stanford; George Washington, which overcame the loss of Atakan Destici to sweep three conference contests on the road; and UC San Diego, which has found a way to beat Western Water Polo Association (WWPA) foe UC Davis despite the absence of one it’s key players.

#1 Stanford University (10-1); last weekend the Cardinal deftly avoided an upset bid by Long Beach State, beat back Pacific and then topped the host Bruins to take home top honors for the 2019 MPSF Invite. What’s noteworthy; Ben Hallock scored one goal against LBS, six against Pacific and two against UCLA—but the attention he drew in the pivot was crucial to the success that Tyler Abramson and Bennett Williams enjoyed in a 4-0 weekend for his team. Up next: this Sunday the Cardinal travel to Stockton to face a tough University of the Pacific squad.

[Stanford, Behind Abramson and Williams, Beats UCLA for 1st MPSF Invite Title Since 2011]

#2 UCLA (9-1); in the weekend’s marquee match-up, the Bruins ended a UC Santa Barbara run that had claimed three of the Big Four—but just barely, winning 9-8 on a goal by Ashworth Molthen with 45 seconds left. In Sunday’s final against Stanford, the Bruins fell behind and never caught up. But, if you’re a UCLA watcher, you have to assume that Nicolas Saveljic (11 goals in ten games) will start to find the back of the net more often—perhaps starting this Friday with a home match against Long Beach State.

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

Stanford’s Ben Hallock. Photo Courtesy: Hector Garcia-Molina

#3 Pacific (9-1); in the new polo order, the Tigers are the nation’s #3 team and UC Santa Barbara, their Golden Coast Conference (GCC) rivals, clock in at #4, ahead of perennial powers USC and Cal. The Tigers had an excellent adventure last weekend, coming within a goal (albeit late in the game) of catching Stanford and then dealing the high-flying Gauchos a loss. To prove they deserve their lofty status, Head Coach James Graham’s squad faces UC Davis on Friday and then get a rematch at home with the Cardinal this Sunday.

[Pacific Holds off UC Santa Barbara 11-10 for Third Place @ 2019 MPSF Invitational]

#4 UC Santa Barbara (15-2); the Gauchos made it to the top of the collegiate rankings, only to stumble against UCLA and Pacific. But, losing one-goal games to the #2 and #3 teams in the country does little to diminish UCSB’s exciting run-up to #1—and they have an immediate shot at redemption: #5 USC is coming to Santa Barbara on Sunday. Prior to the match with the Trojans the 1979 NCAA champions will be feted; surely that will fire up Wolf Wigo’s squad.

[On The Record with Wolf Wigo, UC Santa Barbara Men’s Water Polo Coach]

#5 University of Southern California (7-2); perhaps the clearest indication of the state of Trojan polo is Marko Vavic, the team’s third-leading scorer a year ago (57 goals), in street clothes—unable to help his teammates. It’s anyone’s guess if or when Jovan’s son will get back in the pool; until then, the Trojans will have to remain competitive in the MPSF. First they have non-conference foes UC Irvine at home on Saturday and UCSB on Sunday in Santa Barbara; the Gauchos have already beaten USC once this season.

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Adrian Weinberg is top man in the Cal cage. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

#6 University of California (9-5); it’s been a decidedly slow start for Head Coach Kirk Everist’s squad, and the primary reason appears to be: who’s manning the Golden Bear cage? Incumbent Bernardo Carelli has appeared in four matches—starting one—as freshman Adrian Weinberg has gotten the nod in the other 13 matches. Everist’s logic is understandable; a 6-5 freshman suggests that the future can only be brighter. Of course, you have to wait for it to materialize. For the present, there’s an away match against San Jose State on Saturday.

#7 Pepperdine (11-5); if the goal of any season is to peak at the right time, the Waves could be in fine position when the GCC playoffs come around. They’ve lost three times to UC Santa Barbara—none of which is a conference match–have a one-goal loss to Cal, and a two-goal defeat versus UCLA at Spieker. Next up: Pomona-Pitzer and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps on Saturday at the Gary Troyer Memorial Tournament.

#8 Long Beach State (10-6); a 1-3 result at the MPSF Invite wouldn’t look so bad if the 49ers hadn’t dropped 14-10 decision to the Waves in the seventh-place game. This puts them behind a GCC rival early. Not that LBS fan should worry; last year the team waited until the season’s end, when a hot streak put them in the NCAAs for the first time in almost 30 years. The difference this year: UCSB, on probation for the 2018 GCC playoffs, will be playing at season’s end. Before that happens, Gavin Arroyo’s squad has many games to go, including a match against UCLA on Friday.

#9 UC San Diego (10-5); there’s good news and bad news for Triton fans. A weekend in Los Angeles turned out great! Three wins—including another victory over WWPA arch-rival UC Davis—made for a great outcome at the MPSF Invite. The bad news? Kacper Langiewicz, UCSD’s stud center, is not coming back. Denny Harper’s squad has made due thus far; as they get into conference play—including Thursday night against Cal Baptist in Riverside—the Tritons look to have enough to repeat as WWPA champs.

#10 (T) Loyola Marymount (5-7); the Lions split four matches in their home pool, and the only one they were outclassed in was a 19-11 loss to Pacific. Sunday, LMU hosts a young Navy team, then next Saturday against UC San Diego at the Burns Center—a rematch of a high-scoring affair earlier this season that the Lions won.

#10 (T) UC Davis (7-6); Dan Leyson’s squad was a goal away from a great closing to their Los Angeles trip; twice the Aggies had leads late against UC San Diego but squandered them in a 13-12 sudden death overtime loss. Now, they get to pick up the pieces and battle against Pacific this Friday, and San Jose State on Sunday.

#12 Harvard (9-0); the Crimson have cruised through their non-conference schedule, but now comes the hard part. Starting Saturday, Ted Minnis’ unbeaten crew travels south to play Northeast Water Polo Conference (NWPC) rivals Princeton, St. Francis and Iona. If Harvard remains unbeaten against this trio, that will make their unblemished record that much more impressive.

#13 UC Irvine (6-5); Marc Hunt recently celebrated his 200th win as a coach at UCI. He’s a direct connection to legendary coach Ted Newland, who he played under. But these Anteaters have not approached the success of the great UCI teams of lore, which captured NCAA titles in 1970, 1982 and 1989. With three losses in LA—including a decision to LMU—Hunt’s squad needs to rebound but probably not this weekend, as the Anteaters travel back to Los Angeles for a match against the Trojans.

#14 Bucknell (9-2; 2-1 MAWPC); the Bison have two weeks to rest up for the most important stretch of their season—conference play—which will begin next weekend with a trip to the coast and matches against Hopkins, Navy and two-time MAWPC champs George Washington.

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Atakan Destici. Photo Courtesy: George Washington Athletics

#15 George Washington (12-3; 3-0 MAWPC); the Colonials enjoyed their own excellent weekend—even though Atakan Destici, their best player was watching from the pool deck. GW rallied to beat Fordham in the Bronx, journeyed to Staten Island and defeated Wagner, then traveled down the turnpike to Philly where they picked up a win against La Salle. The weekend sweep of conference foes puts Barry King’s team at the top of the MAWPC—at least until they face off against Bucknell in two weeks.

#16 California Baptist (4-7; 0-1 WWPA); the Lancers will take a modest two-game winning streak into Thursday’s match against WWPA rival UC San Diego. A win at home over the Tritons would be a huge boost to CBU fortunes, and extend another modest streak—back-to-back wins over UCSD after a 13-match losing streak.

#17 St. Francis Brooklyn (9-3; 1-0 NWPC); the most exciting stretch of the season for New York City water polo fans begins this weekend, as the Terriers host four matches against conference rivals in the claustrophobic confines of the Pope Center. There’s no venue like the Pope in all of NCAA polo; small, loud, hot and a decided advantage for an SFC team that knows how to get the most out of a pool four floors below street level. A resurgent MIT comes to Brooklyn at noon on Saturday, followed by Brown at 5pm. On Sunday the Harvard Crimson—who may be the Terriers’ biggest obstacle to a conference title for the first time since 2013—will be in the pool, with Princeton a week later.

[On The Record with Austin Ringheim, MIT Water Polo New Head Coach]

#18 (T) Pomona-Pitzer (7-4; 2-1 SCIAC); the news out of Pomona is not that they’re ranked in the CWPA Top 20 for the first time this season—it’s that Whitter, their rival for top honors in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference—handily beat the Sage Hens last week, snapping a lengthy win streak in conference play for Pomona. Head Coach Alex Rodriguez’s squad had a reasonably strong showing at the MPSF Invite—including a win over Princeton—and now co-hosts the Gary Troyer Tournament and matches this weekend against Air force, Cal Baptist, Pepperdine and UC San Diego.

#18 (T) Princeton (6-8); Tigers Head Coach Dusty Litvak is taking the tack that to be the best you need to play the best. And, his team has played—and lost to—some of the best teams in the country, including Stanford, UCLA and USC. They host Harvard Saturday—a rematch of the 2018 NWPC final—then Brown and MIT. This will be a test of Litvaks approach to prepare his players with higher-level competition.

[Princeton’s Litvak Talks Tiger Water Polo on Eve of Princeton Invitational]

#20 Whittier College (6-7; 3-0 SCIAC); what stands out about the Poets’ record is their sterling mark in conference play. A 9-3 win over SCIAC heavyweight Pomona-Pitzer—engineered by Cal Baptist transfer Dominick Nevarez—marks Whittier as a challenger for a title in 2019. Head Coach David Kasa’s team will also participate in the Troyer memorial tournament; their matches are against Air Force, Cal Baptist, Johns Hopkins and the Tritons of UC San Diego.

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