UCLA and Stanford Up, UCSB and Pacific Down on Day Two of 2019 MPSF Invite

September 28, 2019; Spieker Aquatics Complex, Los Angeles, CA, USA; MWP: UC Santa Barbara Gauchos vs UCLA Bruins; Photo credit: Catharyn Hayne
UCSB's Cole Bronsan defends against UCLA's Tommy Gruwell at the 2019 MPSF Invitational. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

On a rare rainy day in Southern California, the men’s water polo action in the Spieker Aquatics Center pool was anything but tepid, with a number of compelling matches taking place on Day Two of the 2019 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) Invitational.

Led by a much-anticipated match-up between #1 UC Santa Barbara and #2 UCLA, an early season trend of major upsets to the traditional men’s water polo hierarchy known as the “Big Four” was blunted. The host Bruins—who have won three NCAA titles over the last five years—emerged on top of the upstart Gauchos, while he Cardinal of Stanford, runner-ups in last year’s national championship, weathered an upset bid by Pacific. Both emerged as finalist for the this year’s MPSF Invite final, leaving UCSB and Pacific to battle for third place.

Number 1 vs. Number 2 for the 2nd straight week

Saturday’s marquee game was always going to be the top-ranked Gauchos of UCSB and the host Bruins of UCLA if both teams won early morning games—which they did. UCLA opened play with a decisive 12-9 win over MPSF rival Cal, as Jake Cavano tallied four times and Ashworth Molthen had two scores.

[#2 UC Santa Barbara Storms into Avery, Shocks #1 Stanford in Men’s Water Polo]

The Gauchos followed suit, beating Pepperdine for the third time this season and stretching their season-opening win streak to fifteen in a 14-10 win over the Waves. Leading the way as he has all season for Head Coach Wolf Wigo’s squad was Cole Bronsan with two goals and an assist. Also chipping in with two goals apiece were Jacob Halle and Leo Yuno.

On the other side of the bracket were USC, Pacific, Stanford and Long Beach State. The Trojans—defensing MPSF Invite champs—were knocked out of top honors this year by the Tigers, who got a monster performance from Jeremie Cote (five goals and an assist) as well as four-goal games from Engin Ege Colak and Luke Pavillard to beat Southern Cal 16-15.

Stanford had its hands full with the 49ers, as they rallied from a four-goal deficit late in the fourth quarter before running out of time in a 14-13 loss. Leading the way for the Cardinal were Tyler Abramson and AJ Rossman, who each had four goals and three assists. Rafael Real Vergara’s six goals for Long Beach State, setting the stage for a Stanford versus Pacific semifinal opposite UCSB and UCLA.

September 28, 2019; Spieker Aquatics Complex, Los Angeles, CA, USA; MWP: USC Trojans vs University of the Pacific Tigers; Photo credit: Catharyn Hayne

Hannes Daube is one of the country’s best—but he couldn’t get USC over the hump against Pacific. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

The Gauchos, ranked #1 by the CWPA for the first time in program history, and the Bruins, who are very familiar with being the nation’s best, squared off in the rain at Spieker. The back and forth match was as good as advertised, coming down to the final minute, when Molthen—who has become Head Coach Adam Wright’s go-to scorer—deliver the tie-breaking goal in a 9-8 win that put the Bruins in the finals for the first time since 2017. Molthen led UCLA with three goals and two assists, but the standout performer for Wright was goalie Alex Wolf, who had a season-high 13 saves. Sam Nagle scored twice for the Gauchos, while Ivan Gvozdanovic contributed five assists.

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

Stanford joined UCLA in the final by virtue of a 15-14 decision over Pacific. Ben Hallock was unstoppable for Head Coach John Vargas’ squad, with six tallies. Abramson had three goals and three assists, while Matthew Hosmer had four goals, and Cote had two goals and three assists in a losing effort—the first time this season the Tigers have been beat.

Lots to be decided Sunday

Spieker will be the site of the today’s final, when UCLA and Stanford will play at 1 p.m. PST. UCSB and Pacific will square off for third place at 11:30 a.m.; California versus USC and Long Beach State against Pepperdine will take place earlier in Westwood.

Over at Loyola Marymount’s Burns Center Pool, San Jose State will face Air Force, Pomona-Pitzer and Princeton will play, the host Lions will look to finish with a win over UC Irvine, and UC Davis and UC San Diego—bitter rivals in the Western Water Polo Association—will look to see who takes round two of their battles; the Tritons won the first meeting at San Diego.

For live stats of all matches, please go to the Socal Invitational Tournament Central page on the UCLA website.