This Halloween weekend the UCSD Men’s Water Polo Club Team competed in the Southwest Regional Championship Tournament hoping for a birth in the Collegiate Water Polo Association National Championships. The Tritons went in to the tournament ranked third, needing to win three games to come in first place in the region. With the tall feat ahead of them, the Tritons did not let this or the spooky weekend holiday strike fear in themselves and arrived at the University of California Irvine ready to compete.
First up the Tritons faced the sixth ranked University of San Diego Torreys. The Tritons came out ready to go, and quickly put a large gap between them and the Torreys on the scoreboard. A counter attacked fueled offense and a strong team defense resulted in the Tritons winning 14-3. Sophomores Mackenzie Cottle and Sean Kim fueled the offense with several goals each from the perimeter, while Freshmen Joshua Wang provided five of his own goals from the two-meter position. On the defensive end, Senior Andrew Golyer and Junior J.J. Kadifa played excellent two-meter defense, allowing none of the three Torreys’ goals to come from the center. With this confidence coming from the victory the Tritons moved on to the regional semi-final.
The next opponent for the Tritons was the second ranked Arizona State University Sun Devils. Tensions were high for the tough match up, judging by what had happened earlier that season when the Tritons lost in an overtime match. Both teams came out strong, ending the first quarter tied one-one. After the first quarter, while the Tritons started to find the back of the net, the Sun Devils could not. The Sun Devils would only go on to score two more points the whole match, while the Tritons tallied eleven more for a final score of 12-3. Senior Bryan Lee and Junior Jacob Stupin lead the offense, each having several goals apiece, several of them coming from defensive steals that lead to self-made opportunities for goals that were finished with precision and skill. Senior Captain Frederick Ferrer lead the defense from the two-meter guard position that only allowed two more goals the whole game. On the few occasions that the Triton defense fell short, Senior goalie Gio Goggia provided the last line of defense, adding double digit saves to his tally. The Tritons continued on to the final championship match filled to the brim with confidence.
For the final, the Tritons were to face the number one ranked San Diego State University Aztecs. The greatest challenge of the weekend, as the Tritons had lost the same match up twice before this season. Not to be daunted, the Tritons started the game on a gloomy, rainy Sunday in complete mental focus and at peak physical readiness for the Aztecs. The Tritons knew that the game would be won by the team with the stronger defense. However, the Aztecs were thinking the same thing and came out ready to execute. It was a storm for a hard fought, aggressive, low scoring and exciting game. After allowing to be scored on first, the Tritons were able to answer back at the end of the first quarter with an inside drive from Junior Austin Norris, who finished and tied the game at one apiece. The second quarter started and the Aztecs put away a 2-meter goal to go up by one early in the second. After a bit of a goal drought for both teams, Senior Nick Ratekin earned a point for the Tritons after scrapping at two meters to put away a loose ball that the goalie had attempted to come out and steal from him. The halftime whistle sounded, and the score remained 2-2.
The Aztecs came out in the third quarter determined. After earning two penalties within the first half of the third quarter and putting away one of them, as well as earning a counter attack goal, the Tritons found themselves in a two goal deficit for almost the entirety of the third quarter until the very end. Junior Austin Norris stepped up again, putting away an outside shot on a man up advantage to get within one of the Aztecs. However, the Aztecs earned another penalty call on a counter opportunity that they put away decisively. The Tritons went into the fourth quarter down by two. The start of the fourth quarter did not bode much better for the Tritons, as the Aztecs scored early in the quarter to go up by three. Senior Captain Travis Knight was able to respond back the next possession with a post-up step out shot from the two post. Unfortunately, this was the last time either team scored, leaving the Tritons on the wrong side of a 6-4 final score. Despite several more solid attempts, the Tritons were not able to catch up with the Aztecs, and just fell short of the Regional title.
After a tough start to the season, the Tritons came a long way since the beginning of September. They came together as a team, set a goal for themselves, and worked very hard to try and achieve that goal. While they fell short in the end, they showed great growth, commitment, companionship, and heart. The Tritons finished the season 7-4 and second in Southwest Region of the Collegiate Water Polo Association.