The team of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) won its 12th NCAA Championships in men’s water polo.
The final tournament of the 2020 NCAA Championship (the last year’s season was postponed to this year, and the 2021 Championships will be played in autumn, as planned) was held in Los Angeles last weekend. The University of Southern California (USC) was the host. UCLA and USC faced off in the gold-medal match. UCLA recorded a narrow 7:6 win to capture the title.
Six teams took part in the tournament. The top two seeded teams, Stanford (No.1) and California (No.2), qualified to the semifinals directly. Stanford entered the tournament as the title-holder. In the previous final, held in Stockton in 2019, Stanford beat Pacific (13:8)
UCLA – California Baptist 19:14 (4:3, 5:1, 6:5, 4:5)
UCLA Bruins: Cavano 5, Saveljic 3, Discipulo 3, Rosenfeld 2, Ocasio 2, Kenney 2, Reagan 1, Pulice 1.
California Baptist: McDonough 4, Griffin 3, Barnett 2, Lowery 2, Bumgardner 1, Olsen 1, Sanchez 1
USC – Bucknell 18:9 (6:0, 3:2, 6:4, 3:3)
USC Trojans: Ehrhardt 5, Kranz 3, Nardelli 3, Wyatt 2, Sturtevant 2, Miller 1, Barker 1, Mercep 1.
Bucknell: Yardley 5, Lewis 3, Jones 1.
UCLA (No.4) defeated California Baptist, while USC (No.3) beat Bucknell on the opening day of the Championship.
The first match of the tournament turned into a flood of goals. UCLA advanced to the semifinals with a 19:14 victory over Cal Baptist. The UCLA Bruins controlled the match and broke the rival in the third quarter when they took a 12:6 lead. Before the final quarter, UCLA had a six-goal advantage (15:9) and didn’t let California Baptist come back.
USC ran over Bucknell – 18:9. The first quarter determined the rest of the match. The USC Trojans opened the game with a 6:0 blast. The second quarter was a balanced battle, but the Trojans increased the margin to seven before the middle break (9:2), and practically secured a spot in the semifinals.
For the first time since 1994, the NCAA Men’s water polo tournament featured All-MPSF semifinals. All four semifinalists are in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. That happened four times (1992, 1993,1994, and 2020).
The MPSF Championship was ended early in March. Stanford won the MPSF title this season after beating California in the final game (9:8). USC finished 3rd, and UCLA in 4th place.
USC – California 12:10 (2:2, 3:3, 2:3, 5:2)
USC Trojans: Ehrhardt 4, Kranz 3, Longton 2, Barker 2, Agliozzo 1.
California Bears: Papanikolaou 2, O’Brien-Schridde 1, Valecic 1, Deely 1, Stellet 1, Molina 1, Delagrammatikas1, Loth, Avakian 1.
UCLA – Stanford 11:10 (4:2, 4:3, 0:2, 3:3)
UCLA Bruins: Gruwell 3, Saveljic 2, Cavano 1, Discipulo 1, Ocasio 1, Travisano 1, Nightingale 1, Kenney 1.
Stanford Cardinal: Abramson 4, Rossman 2, Parrish 1, Jurasius 1, Churukian 1, Woodhead 1.
USC defeated California in the semifinals after a magnificent comeback. The score was tied seven times in the first three periods. California gained an 8:7 lead before the final quarter. The Bears doubled the advantage in the fourth period (9:7), only to see the Trojans’ comeback. USC produced a 5:0 series and jumped to a 12:9 lead with 37 seconds left. After that, California scored a consolation goal.
USC edged out Stanford to advance to the final game. The Bruins built an 8:5 lead by halftime, but Stanford held UCLA scoreless in the third quarter and reduced the gap (7:8) before the final eight minutes. Montenegrin Nicolas Saveljic gave UCLA a 9:7 lead in the first minute of the fourth quarter. Stanford responded for 8:9, but shortly after, Saveljic scored his second straight goal and pushed UCLA to 10:8. However, the Cardinal leveled the score (10:10) with 1:43 minutes left. Just 30 seconds later, UCLA’s Tommy Gruwell completed his trick for the final score (11:10).
UCLA – USC 7:6 (1:0, 2:0, 2:4, 2:2)
UCLA Bruins: Cavano 2, Gruwell 1, Kenney 1, Rosenfeld 1, Saveljic 1, Travisano 1.
USC Trojans: Kranz 2, Mercep 2, Ehrhardt 1, Strurtevant 1.
Defenses dominated in the first period. The Bruins’ Tommy Gruwell broke the deadlock in the 6th minute. UCLA scored two unanswered goals in the second quarter and had a solid 3:0 advantage at halftime.
The Trojans got on the scoreboard in the 18th minute, when Croat Jacob Mercep found the net for 1:3. In the middle of the third, Mercep’s teammate Sturtevant reduced the gap to one goal (2:3). Cavano doubled UCLA’s advantage (4:2), but USC answered with two goals to tie it at 4:4. Still, the UCLA Bruins entered the final quarter leading 5:4.
Nicolas Saveljic, who was named the Most Valuable Player of the tournament, opened the scoring in the fourth quarter with a power-play goal (6:4). Cavano scored his second goal and extended the margin to three (7:4) in the 26th minute. In the following minutes, USC netted two goals and came very close (6:7). The Trojans had possession with 19 seconds left, but Sturtevant hit the post a few seconds from the end. After that, Saveljic grabbed the ball, and UCLA’s celebration started.
THE BRUINS ARE YOUR 2020-2021 NCAA CHAMPIONS!!!#GoBruins #BeatSC pic.twitter.com/cvaaNN6Yik
— UCLA Water Polo (@UCLAWaterPolo) March 21, 2021