UCSD Men Repeat as Southwestern Champions
The UC San Diego men defeated home team San Diego State University in the regional championships to repeat as Southwestern Conference Champions and secure a spot at Nationals in Pittsburgh. The UCSD Men’s Club Water Polo team competed at the Southwestern Conference Championships, continuing their undefeated season with three wins over Cal-State Northridge (20-1), Arizona State (21-3), and San Diego State (7-5). The final match marked the second consecutive and third time in four years that the Aztecs and Tritons have met in the regional championship game.
In UCSD’s first possession of the match, the Tritons found themselves on the man-up advantage. Senior Jack Harper found sophomore Malachi Sanders wide open center-cage, and Sanders put a backhanded skip-shot behind Aztec goalkeeper Rockne O’Brien for the first goal of the game. The Triton’s offense quickly went quiet, however, and SDSU was able to put up three unanswered goals to put themselves up 3-1 at the end of the half. In the third, with a man excluded, the Aztecs opted to allow O’Brien to leave the cage and play six on six defense with an empty goal. The hard press proved unsuccessful, however, and graduate student Graham McClone was able to net a long-distance shot against the scrambling O’Brien to bring the Tritons within 1. Sanders was able to find the back of the net a few possessions later with a perimeter shot to tie the game at three, and sophomore Andrew Schade was able to put away a rebounded shot that landed in front of the cage to put the Tritons up 1 heading into the fourth quarter.
With a strong faith in the depth of his bench, head coach Hector Sanchez turned to Senior reserve Bryan Murillo in the fourth with the hopes that the fresh legs would overcome a tiring SDSU lineup. The substitution proved to be the most important move of the match. The Aztecs were able to level the score at 4, before Murillo scored on the extra-man advantage. Once again, the Aztecs evened the score, this time on a late clock post-up drive, before Murillo, with a shot from the perimeter put the Tritons up one. With the clock dwindling down below a minute, the Aztecs, with urgency, made one last offensive push, but were stopped by junior goalkeeper Sachin Okuma. Murillo, breaking away on the counter attack, received a pass from Okuma and skipped his third goal behind O’Brien to put the Tritons up 2 with 40 seconds to play. The Triton defense would make one more stop before running the clock out for the victory.
With the win, the Tritons improved their season record to 17-0 and secured a spot at the National Championship Tournament in Pittsburgh, PA on November 15-17. They will face the United States Military Academy in their first round matchup.