Stability Comes to CWPA Top 20; Stanford, UCLA & Pacific Top Three for Second Week in a Row

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Tyler Abramson is the #3 scorer in the MPSF and has been vital to Stanford's early season success. Photo Courtesy: Bryan Williams

For the first time in weeks, there’s relative stability at the top of the Collegiate Water Polo Association Top 20 poll. Stanford, UCLA and Pacific remained in the top three spots; leapfrogging UC Santa Barbara for #4 in the rankings was USC, a 10-9 winner over the Gauchos on Sunday in Santa Barbara.

Another team that made a move this week is Harvard. The Crimson started the season tied in the CWPA poll with fellow Ivy Princeton at #12; after a convincing win over the Tigers last Saturday in New Jersey, Harvard has separated itself from its Northeast Water Polo Conference rival. With a 17-15 win Sunday in Brooklyn the Borstonians tagged St. Francis with its first conference loss, extending the best start in program history. The Crimson, undefeated in 12 games, are the East’s top-ranked program.

By virtue of three wins in their first four conference games—including a grind over Brown—the SFC Terriers moved up a spot; the only other movement in the second ten was Cal Baptist dropping four spots to #20.

#1 Stanford University (12-1); with a win over #3 Pacific for the second weekend in a row, the Cardinal solidified their hold on the poll’s top spot. They followed that up with a win Wednesday over Santa Clara; this weekend it’s road trips to Long Beach State and UC Irvine. Ben Hallock (38 goals) leads the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) in goals; number three on the list is Tyler Abramson (35 goals); he chipped in six goals in the two wins over the Tigers.

#2 UCLA (10-1); an 11-7 win over Long Beach State last Friday got the Bruins back to their winning ways; this Friday UC Santa Barbara, another Golden Coast Conference (GCC) visits Spieker Aquatics Center. This is a rematch of a scintillating match two weeks ago between the then #1 Gauchos and #2 Bruins. The home team came out ahead 9-8 that day; it will be interesting to see what Danny Roland and his new team do on their return trip to Los Angeles.

[On Deck with Danny Roland, UC Santa Barbara Men’s Water Polo Goalie]

#3 University of the Pacific (10-2); in the rush to cover a great start to UCSB’s season, the Tigers were somewhat overlooked. Which is probably just fine with Head Coach James Graham; he’s likely focused on getting his team back to an NCAA title match for the first time since 2013, when the Tigers dropped an overtime decision to USC. A loss last week to Stanford won’t dent those long-term aspirations; beating Southern Cal this Saturday in Stockton would go a long way to keeping Pacific in line for an NCAA at-large berth no matter what happens in the GCC playoffs.

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Jacob Mercep has been great for USC. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

#4 USC (9-2); after an uncharacteristic opening to their season, the Trojans have found their way to some big wins, including a scintillating victory over host UCSB—with members of the Gauchos’ last (and only) NCAA championship, from 1979, looking on—last Sunday in Santa Barbara. Key to USC’s resurgence; Nic Porter has manned the Trojan cage in wins over Cal and UCSB. That, and Jacob Mercep (30 goals, 25 assists) is on fire, with hat trick as USC got revenge against the Gauchos for a loss three weeks.

#5 UC Santa Barbara (15-3); Wolf Wigo’s team has lost three-straight one goal games to the #2. #3 and now the #4 team in the country. While these results have taken the edge off of the Gauchos’ fantastic start, can anyone suggest they aren’t worthy of being in the country’s top five? A 10-9 loss to USC is the latest disappointment—though unlike like losses to UCLA and Pacific, the Trojans’ winning goal did not come in the game’s final minute.

#6 University of California (10-5); winning MPSF newcomers of the week the past three weeks must give Head Coach Kirk Everist confidence for the future—especially this week, when Adrian Weinberg, his freshman goalie, claimed the honor after a 12-save performance in a 10-8 overtime win against San Jose State. It could be that the Golden Bears are just where they need to be—within striking distance of the top five with a matches against Pepperdine this weekend in Berkeley.

#7 Pepperdine (13-5); what might get lost in the luster of Pacific’s and UCSB’s rise in the polls is that the Waves are also a strong contender for top honors in the GCC. The match against Cal this Saturday may go a long way towards defining just how good Head Coach Terry Schroeder’s team is this season–followed Sunday by a road match against GCC foe San Jose State.

#8 Long Beach State (10-7); the 49ers have hit a rough patch in their schedule, which is not surprising. Over the last week they’ve lost to Stanford, USC, Pepperdine and UCLA—with the 11-7 defeat by the Bruins coming last Friday in Los Angeles. Up next: Stanford, this Saturday at the Ken Lindgren Aquatics Center on the LBS campus.

#9 UC San Diego (15-5; 3-0 WWPA); the Tritons continue conference play this weekend, with a road match against Loyola Marymount. Head Coach Denny Harper has to be pleased at how his team has settled in. Riding an eight-match winning streak—including four wins gained last weekend at the Gary Troyer Tournament in Pomona—UCSD is already leading the standings in the Western Water Polo Association. Question is, can they avenge a surprising one-goal loss to LMU three weeks ago in San Diego? Or, do the Lions have their number?

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George Washington versus Bucknell on Sunday will take place at The St. James in Springfield, VA. Photo Courtesy: The St. James

#10 Harvard (12-0; 3-0 NWPC); after a stellar 2018 campaign got the Crimson to their third-straight conference final, it seemed a slam dunk that Head Coach Ted Minnis’ squad would advance to yet another NCAA tournament. Princeton had other ideas, beating Harvard in last season’s NWPC championship match. Minnis’ team hasn’t lost since, and this weekend they traveled to the Tigers’ tank, spotted the reigning NWPC champs a two-goal advantage, then won 12-9. For good measure, the Crimson swept conference foes Iona and St. Francis on the road. This weekend, two more away matches—including at Brown, who tagged Harvard with one of two conference losses last year.

[Northeast Water Polo Conference Report: Harvard Reigns Supreme in Opening Weekend of Conference Play]

#11 Loyola Marymount (6-7; 1-0 WWPA); conference play begins this weekend for the Lions, with home matches against UC San Diego and Santa Clara. Defense has been the hallmark of Head Coach John Loughran’s 23 years at LMU, but this season his team has held an opponent under ten goals just once—against Navy last Sunday in Los Angeles. Luckily, the Lions can score; so far it’s been an average of almost 14 goals a game. They’ll need to score a lot to beat UCSD again—if they do they’ll jump to the top of the WWPA.

#12 UC Davis (7-7; 1-0 WWPA); a 12-9 loss to Pacific and a postponement to San Jose State have extended a brief losing streak. The Aggies will look to get back in the win column this Saturday with a match at Air Force—part of six-straight WWPA matches that will set them up for their conference championship at the end of November.

#13 UC Irvine (6-6); a 16-10 loss to USC last Saturday extended a three-match losing streak for the Anteaters—and they’ve host top-ranked Stanford this Sunday, so the losing may continue. But, UCI gets into conference play the following week against Pepperdine and San Jose State, part of a flourish of five GCC contest in eight matches to end the regular season. A strong showing against conference foes can change the narrative for Marc Hunt’s team.

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Barry King and his Colonials. Photo Courtesy: John Todd

#14 George Washington (12-3; 3-0 MAWPC); two weeks off have allowed Head Coach Barry King’s team to prepare for a big conference match up against Bucknell this Sunday. It’s the first meeting between the two since the Colonials tagged the Bison with a stunning overtime loss in last year’s Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference title match. Before what promises to be an exciting contest, on Friday GW will face La Salle, a 19-6 loser to the Colonials last weekend. Both contests will be played at The St. James, an expansive athletic complex in Springfield, VA that counts the Washington Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin as an owner—and which has a state-of-the-art aquatics facility overseen by Leslie Entwistle.

[On The Record with Leslie Entwistle, Water Polo Pioneer Growing the Sport in the Mid-Atlantic Region]

#15 Bucknell (9-2; 2-1 MAWPC); there’s no question that the Bison circled this weekend on their calendar; they travel to the coast to play MAWPC foes Johns Hopkins, Navy and then George Washington. For a team that’s been frustrated the last two years in their conference playoffs, the opportunity to knock-off the Colonials—their chief antagonists—has to motivate Head Coach Jack McBride’s squad. The two teams will also meet November 10 in Lewisburg, PA.

#16 St. Francis Brooklyn (11-4; 3-1 NWPC); despite the loss to Harvard—who everyone has lost to so far this season—Head Coach Bora Dimitrov has to feel good about his team’s progress. Newcomers Dominick Hevesi (32 goals), Vladimir Mickic (26 goals) and Ivan Stefanovic (34 goals, 13 assists) have collaborated with Will Lapkin and Mateos Santos to give the Terriers an explosive offense. However, defense may be the order of the day when Princeton comes to Brooklyn this Saturday for a marquee match-up between two of the top squads in the NWPC.

[On Deck With Bora Dimitrov, St. Francis Brooklyn Head Water Polo Coach]

#17 Fordham (15-4; 4-1 MAWPC); give credit to Fordham head coaches Brian Bacharach and Bill Harris; the Rams push the envelope when it comes to finding competition. A six-match swimg through California—which included five wins—has their team well-prepared for a stretch of seven conference matches over the next five weeks. First, a break this weekend from a road trip whose only blemish was a 19-5 loss to UC San Diego.

#18 Pomona-Pitzer (9-7; 2-2 SCIAC); for the first time in five years. the Sage Hens have multiple losses in Southern California Intercollegiate Athletics Conference play. The latest was a 9-8 loss to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps on Wednesday in Claremont. In a season where parity may have finally arrived among the top teams in NCAA men’s polo, it appears the same in the SCIAC, with Whittier joining CMS as contenders for top conference honors after a string of three-straight titles for Pomona. Head Coach Alex Rodriguez’s squad can get back to its winning ways this Saturday with road games against La Verne and Redlands.

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Princeton’s Keller Maloney. Photo Courtesy: Nicole Maloney

#19 Princeton (8-9; 2-1); in year’s past, the Tigers would have a much better winning percentage going into conference play, having fattened their schedule against some of the lesser teams of the East and West. Not this team; Head Coach Dusty Litvak clearly has embraced the mantra that to be the best you’ve got to play the best. Meaning matches against Stanford, UCLA, USC, UC San Diego and a trip to Los Angeles for the MPSF Invitational, where Princeton was the only Eastern team in the mix. Oh, and against Harvard, the East’s best – which they proved by beating the host Tigers 12-9 last Saturday. Now Litvak and his squad look to reverse their fortunes on the road against Iona and St. Francis.

#20 Cal Baptist (5-11; 0-2 WWPA); last weekend was tough for the Lancers, with three losses in four matches at the Gary Troyer Tournament in Claremont as well as a loss to conference foe UC San Diego. Now they get home to Thousand Oaks for the Lancer Joust, where they’ll host three other squads, including the Ottawa Spirit, the newest men’s water polo program. Among CBU’s four matches they faze Ottawa twice, so the win-loss record should improve—but next weekend it’s #2 UCLA in Los Angeles.

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