Shuffling of the Deck in Order This Weekend for NCAA Varsity Men’s Water Polo Top Ten

December 2, 2017; Uytengsu Aquatics Center, Los Angeles, California, USA; Waterpolo: NCAA: Harvard University vs University of Southern California Trojans; Photo credit: Catharyn Hayne- KLC fotos
Will more celebrating be in order Saturday for USC's Marko Vavic? Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

The Collegiate Water Polo Association Men’s Varsity Water Polo Top-Ten was unchanged from last week, but a reordering at the top is almost certain to occur this weekend. Two of the nation’s top four teams have competitive matches—against each other.

That would be the top-ranked Trojans of USC—3-0 last week, including a 16-2 thrashing of #5 University of California-Santa Barbara—who travel to Palo Alto to face #3 Stanford on Saturday in the first Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) match of the 2018 men’s season. On paper, Southern Cal (17-0) looks to be the far superior team, having outscored opponents by an astonishing 242 goals (310 scored, 68 allowed). In limited action, the Cardinal (8-0) have complied a +96 (137 scored; 41 allowed). Featuring Bennett Williams (25 goals) Tyler Abramson (24) Ben Hallock (18) and Blake Parrish (16), John Vargas’ team has the depth and talent to beat the Trojans; is there enough firepower to overcome Jovan Vavic’s line-up of son Marko (39 goals), Jacob Mercep (31), Zach D’sa (24) and Hannes Daube (23)? Tip-off is 2 p.m. (PST); check out the Pac-12 Network for all the action.

Last weekend #2 UCLA (15-0) persevered in a low-scoring match in Stockton, CA—beating #6 Pacific 8-5—then travelled to Davis, where they beat the #8 Aggies of University of California-Davis 12-8. The Bruins return to action tomorrow at the Spieker Aquatics Center against #16 San Jose State. Looming next weekend for Adam Wright’s squad is the MPSF Invitational (October 12 – 14), also at Stanford, which will feature the top programs in the West.

The Golden Bears of #4 Cal (12-1) got wins over a pair of ranked opponents—#12 UC Irvine on Friday and #11 Pepperdine on Saturday—to pad a modest four-match win streak. Up next for Kirk Everist’s squad: #19 Loyola Marymount, but not until Friday, October 12 on Day 1 of the MPSF Invitational.

avery-stanford-nov17

There’s few places in the U.S. for polo like Stanford’s Avery Aquatics Center. Photo Courtesy: Stanford Athletics

As mentioned, the Gauchos of UC Santa Barbara (12-5) traveled last Sunday to Los Angeles and were decimated by the Trojans, but this weekend the real competition begins; Golden Coast Conference action. Later today they will face the Spartans of San Jose State, a dangerous opponent who last season split two regular season match with UC Santa Barbara before Wolf Wigo’s squad took an 18-14 decision in the 2017 GCC tournament, good for fifth place. Next week, the Gauchos will also attend the MPSF Invitational and perhaps continue their upset-minded ways.

Pacific (5-5) has a critical GCC match-up this afternoon, as the Tigers travel to Irvine to face the Anteaters and snap a four-game losing skid. And—in a head-scratching scheduling twist—Head Coach James Graham’s squad will face UC Irvine again on Day 1 of the MPSF Invitational; that will be a non-conference match-up but the back-to-back contests against a tough conference opponent may go a long way towards showing how likely the Tigers are to repeat as GCC champions.

Sweeping their first three road games of Northeast Water Polo Conference (NWPC) play was not an easy feat—especially after losing leading scorer Austin Sechrest (38 goals) to a red card and Dennis Blyashov (37 goals) to exclusions—but #7 Harvard (11-3; 3-0 NWPC) persevered in one-goal victories over #12 Princeton and always-dangerous St. Francis Brooklyn. The wins cement the Crimsons’ stature as the East’s best team; this weekend Ted Minnis’ squad gets to defend their home pool against Brown, a rematch with the Tigers, who they beat last Sunday with a golden goal in overtime, and the Engineers of MIT, who would like nothing better than dealing the Crimson a loss in Blodgett. A sweep would put Harvard in the driver’s seat for conference play, but Princeton—learning to adjust to a season without Sean Duncan, their superb hole set—will be a tough out, even in Cambridge.

The University of California-San Diego (10-2; 3-0 WWPA) tied with UC Davis for eighth in the CWPA poll—beat Western Water Polo Association foe Air Force last Friday; next up for the Tritons is a home match tonight against #16 Cal Baptist. Head Coach Denny Harper’s squad will travel to Avery Aquatic Center to compete in the MPSF Invitational. UC Davis (8-4; 2-0 WWPA) will also be at Stanford next weekend; before that, the Aggies will travel to take on WWPA opponent Concordia in Irvine later today.

Rounding out the top 10 is Long Beach State (6-4); the 49ers have had two weeks off to regroup following a three-game slide; at 7 p.m. (PST) today is a Golden Coast Conference match-up with the Waves of Pepperdine. For Head Coach Gavin Arroyo, the layoff is a chance to get his talented young line-up into shape; luckily, they are at home for what might be a pivot point in a season where LBS has hopes of a strong showing in the GCC Tournament.