Tritons Place Third At Collegiate Club Water Polo National Championships
The UCSD Men’s Club Water Polo team traveled to Pittsburgh, PA for the CWPA National Championships. It was only the third national championship appearance for the Tritons, who finished ninth in 2013 and fifth in 2018.
In their first matchup, UCSD took on the United States Military Academy. In the first quarter, UCSD took an early 5-2 lead and never looked back. A final 19-7 score-line propelled the Tritons into the quarterfinals. The UCSD offense was highlighted by grad student Graham McClone’s four goals, as well as senior captain Jack Harper’s three. In total, eleven different players found the back of the cage for the Tritons. Goalkeeper Sachin Okuma tallied 10 saves and earned player of the game honors.
In the quarterfinals, UCSD matched up with the 4 seed Cal-State Maritime Keelhaulers in their first tournament appearance. The first half of the match proved to be an even contest, with strong defense by both sides dominating the game pace. The Keelhaulers took early 1-0 and 2-1 leads, before sophomore Andrew Burda and McClone connected on back-to-back man-up opportunities to put the Tritons up 3-2 at the end of the first half. In the third, the Triton’s offense exploded for five goals to put the game at 8-3 going into the final quarter. Head Coach Hector Sanchez opted to play the bench for most of the fourth, and the Keelhaulers were never able to surmount the deficit. A final score of 10-7, highlighted by Burda’s five goals, meant the Tritons would play later in the day in the semifinals.
In the semis, UCSD faced reigning champions Lindenwood University in a rematch of last year’s quarterfinals- a 7-3 loss for the Tritons. Early in the first, the Lindenwood Lions took an early, two goal lead before lefty Jordi Rivera and McClone evened the score at 2 all. The Lions regained the lead before sophomore Malachi Sanders knotted a pair of goals to put the Tritons up 4-3. A late first-quarter goal by Lindenwoond tied the game at four. In a slow second quarter, the Lions were able to outscore the Tritons 2-0, to put UCSD behind 6-4 headed into the second half. The lead was short-lived, as McClone connected early in the third and freshman Sheldon French netted back-to-back goals to put the Tritons up by a goal. The match continued in a back and forth fashion resulting in a 9-all tie with 4:40 remaining in the game. A penalty shot for the Lions gave them the late lead, and an insurance goal late in the period sealed the 11-9 victory for Lindenwood. It was the first loss of the season for the Tritons, who had won 19 straight. It would also mark the third time in as many appearances that UCSD would be eliminated by the eventual champion (UCLA in the first round in 2013 and Lindenwood in the quarterfinals in 2018), as Lindenwood easily defeated the University of Southern California 9-5 in the final.
On Sunday, in the third-place consolation final, the Tritons played their final match against 2018 runner-up University of Utah. The Tritons took an early lead but were unable to put away a persistent Utah team lead by All-Tournament MVP Seth Hughes. With a second-half comeback, Utah took a 10-9 lead before Burda leveled the score to force overtime- played out as two, 3 minute periods. In OT, the Tritons put up two goals early, only to allow Utah to respond with two of their own to knot the score at 12. Early in the second overtime period, Utah went up a goal to put late pressure on the Tritons. Sanchez called a timeout with 1:41 remaining on the clock. Gonzalo Rivera scored his second goal of OT shortly after to tie the game, and then Burda scored the go-ahead goal for the Tritons on a penalty shot in the following possession. One final defensive stop gave UCSD possession with 0:33 remaining and the lead. The Tritons bled out the clock before Rivera scored his third goal of overtime to seal the third-place victory.
To accompany their historic third place, the Tritons won some additional hardware at the end-of-tournament awards. Burda, who had five goals in the Utah game, took home First Team All-Tournament Honors and Sanchez, in his fifth year with the club, was named Coach of the Tournament.