Saturday, May 18

On NCAA run, Adam Wright finds support in UCLA water polo after father’s death

Coach Adam Wright instructs UCLA men's water polo from the side of the pool during the NCAA tournament. (Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Coach Adam Wright is entering Sunday with a chance to claim his fifth national championship since taking over the program in 2009.

But on Saturday, after UCLA men’s water polo earned an NCAA championship berth, the 15-year coach shared that since midseason, he’s been grieving the death of his father – unsure of what the next day brings.

For Wright, there’s been one constant in the latter half of 2023 – his Bruins.

“I got to be honest, I don’t know what’s going to happen after tomorrow (Sunday), because they’ve kept me there,” Wright said. “Tomorrow evening (Sunday evening) opens a whole new door for me because I’ve just been insulated by these guys.”

Before UCLA traveled to the Bay Area to compete against California and Stanford, Wright’s father, Steve, unexpectedly died on Oct. 1 – a day after the team’s victory over Air Force. After spending time with family back home during the week, UCLA’s coach returned to his team and helped secure a sweep of the Golden Bears and Cardinal.

“We have a standard, and I push the standard,” Wright said. “My dad passed away and it was tough – unexpected – and he was at games. You don’t know until you’re in that situation, how you’re going to react and how the guys are going to react. Right? And they’ve kept me going – because it’s not an easy period.”

He added that the way his team rallied behind him made this year’s group one of the best since becoming UCLA’s coach – taking joy in aspects beyond games with his newest bunch of Bruins.

“This has been one of the most enjoyable seasons I’ve had in a long time, and I’ve gone through a lot personally in my life,” Wright said. “These guys have kept me going. They’ve stayed the course when I had to step away. They have made practice fun again. Our culture is in such a great place.”

Family is an aspect of the team that goes into the locker room – one that Wright builds through recruitment and relies upon.

Wright talks to his team during a timeout. (Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)
Wright talks to his team during a timeout. (Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Across the men’s and women’s water polo programs – both of which Wright leads – there are five sets of siblings and one on the way with junior attacker Chase Dodd’s brother, Ryder, signing with UCLA in November.

Redshirt senior attacker Jack Larsen – the older brother of redshirt freshman utility Ben Larsen – said Wright has treated him as one of his own, and he tried to do the same when his coach’s dad died.

“All you can do is be there for support, and Adam has treated me like family since day one,” Jack Larsen said. “I just try to reciprocate and be there.”

Across UCLA’s 17 goals en route to its NCAA semifinal victory over Princeton, Larsen provided four while senior attacker Makoto Kenney scored one of his own and assisted a career-high eight.

Kenney added that Wright had been there for him in the past and said it instilled confidence in how the team could prepare while he was away.

“Honestly, he’s been there for me when I’ve had troubles with school or anything family, so he needed to take time to step away and that’s fine,” Kenney said. “We’ll take it from there and carry on. … I think he was confident that we were going to step up to the plate and still bring it.”

Ahead of UCLA’s national championship clash against No. 2 seed Cal on Sunday afternoon, Wright said he’s just thankful for the team’s camaraderie that carries his spirit.

“I’m just so grateful for this group and the time we’ve had together,” Wright said. “The reality is, that’s tough for a bunch of young kids to kind of carry the torch for their coach. But they’ve been incredible.”

Assistant Sports editor

Royer is the 2023-2024 Assistant Sports editor on the baseball, gymnastics and men's water polo beats and a reporter on the football beat. He was previously a staff writer on the baseball, football and gymnastics beats. He is also a fourth-year communication student.

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