The Bruins had the chance to relight the spark of their undefeated season but ultimately failed to exit the loss column.
“We can really see that if we don’t play the right way and play the way we need to, the result that shows,” said senior goalkeeper Garret Griggs.
No. 1 seed UCLA men’s water polo (24-2, 7-0 MPSF) dropped its second game of the year to No. 5 seed Stanford (16-8, 2-4) by a score of 11-10 in double overtime at California’s Spieker Aquatics Complex on Sunday afternoon in the third-place game of the MPSF tournament.
“We absolutely were not who we were all year this weekend,” said coach Adam Wright. “It’s good for us. It’s a good opportunity for not only a reset, but to realize we got a couple weeks here together to grow and get better.”
The Cardinal jumped on the board first with a goal in the first minute of the match. Shortly after, both redshirt freshman attacker Frederico Jucá Carsalade and sophomore attacker Noah Rowe put the Bruins on the board with assists from redshirt senior attacker Jack Larsen, marking two out of four assists from the attacker in the game.
Despite attempts to catch up, the Bruins were unable to reach the three-goal threshold, falling behind 3-2 in the first period.
UCLA quickly tied it up in the second quarter with a first-minute goal by senior attacker Rafael Real Vergara.
However, Real Vergara’s score would be the only one of the frame for UCLA. Stanford expanded its lead to two and sent the No. 1-ranked program in the nation to the benches trailing at the half for the second consecutive match.
The Bruins’ level of play was different than expected, Real Vergara said.
“We were able to fix a couple of mistakes, but not enough,” Real Vergara said. “We were still off on defense, and we were getting scored in ways that we’re not used to getting scored on.”
UCLA matched its opponents all the way through the third quarter. With scores by Real Vergara and freshman utility Ben Liechty, the Bruins scored more than two goals in a period for the first time all match.
UCLA matched Stanford’s output in the frame – three goals each – but the Cardinal still held an 8-6 lead.
Moments later, the Bruins stormed back.
“It wasn’t any sort of pep talk (at halftime),” Wright said. “It’s just these guys recognizing and honestly getting back on track with the abilities they have, and the reality is, that was good – that’s a good sign.”
UCLA limited Stanford to one goal in the fourth period and found the back of the net three times – with goals from Larsen, Jucá Carsalade and redshirt senior utility Giorgio Alessandria – to knot up the score at nine and send the game into overtime.
The Bruins were two different teams in both halves, Griggs said.
“First half, defensively, we were missing some blocks and not communicating as well as we should have and can,” Griggs said. “The second half, we kind of calmed down a little bit, and it was helpful for me, especially with the guys communicating, just being in the right position to be able to make some stuff.”
However, Stanford jumped out the gate with two goals in the first three-minute overtime period, leading to an 11-9 advantage heading into the final minutes of the game.
And despite a last-second shot by Real Vergara, the Bruins were unable to surpass the Cardinal, falling 11-10 and settling for fourth place at the MPSF tournament.
UCLA had defeated Stanford twice this season, etching wins in its then-undefeated record, but the Bruins failed to make it three. Real Vergara said Sunday afternoon’s game was a necessary reality check.
“This moment will be great for us to literally wake up, get our faces in the water and practice the hardest we can these coming days,” Real Vergara said. “We were a team that, since day one, we wanted to win the championship. And two bad games, they’re not going to stop us.”
UCLA received an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament on Sunday night and is the No. 1 overall seed. The Bruins will travel across town to USC’s Uytengsu Aquatics Center to compete on Dec. 1-3 for a chance at its second title in four years.