Nov. 29, 2009
LOS ANGELES, CALIF. -Despite three goals from junior center Zach White, the No. 3-ranked Cal men's water polo team fell to No. 4-ranked UCLA, 10-7, in the championship match of the MPSF Tournament Sunday at the McDonald's Swim Stadium in Los Angeles. The Golden Bears (22-6), who had upended UC Irvine, 6-5, and Stanford, 12-11 in overtime, in the first two rounds of the conference tournament, will now have to wait until Monday to see if they receive an at-large berth to the NCAA championships Dec. 4-6 in Princeton, N.J.
Four other Cal players scored in the conference title match versus the Bruins - senior captain Spencer Warden, sophomores Luka Saponjic and Ivan Rackov, and redshirt freshman Spencer White (younger brother of Zach White). After trailing UCLA, 2-1, in the first period, the Bears tied the match, 3-3, at halftime. The Bruins owned a slim 5-4 advantage after three periods, but pulled away in the final eight minutes by outscoring Cal, 5-3, in the fourth quarter for the final 10-7 margin of victory.
Cal chances to make the NCAA Tournament were hurt earlier Sunday when No. 1-ranked USC defeated Stanford, 9-7, in the tournament third-place match. Only two teams from the MPSF, the most powerful water polo conference in the nation, make the four-team NCAA tournament. Princeton (winner of Collegiate Water Polo Association) and Loyola Marymount (winner of Western Water Polo Association) are already slated as two of the four teams in this year's NCAA Tournament.
The Bears, the NCAA record-holder with 13 national titles in water polo, earlier this season defeated LMU, 9-8, Oct. 31 at the UC Irvine Invitational, but have fallen to USC three times this year. Cal defeated the Trojans in the 2006 (7-6) and 2007 (8-6) NCAA title matches.
The UCLA contest could be the conclusion to an outstanding career for Warden, one of the Bears' top all-around players in school history. The senior from Soquel, Calif. is a three-time All-American and was the 2006 MPSF Newcomer of the Year. He has 135 goals in 111 career matches with over 240 steals. Cal's other senior is captain Mike Sample, who has also been an all-around standout the past three years and was the 2009 recipient of the Walter A. Haas Jr. Award for community service, and was a member a U.S. National Team that competed at the 2009 World University Games this past summer in Belgrade, Serbia.
"Obviously we are disappointed to have come this far and fall short, but we fought hard all weekend and I'm extremely proud of the team for that," said Cal coach Kirk Everist. "We had some great moments this year and we congratulate UCLA on the championship."
UCLA 2 - 1 - 2 - 5 = 10 CAL 1 - 2 - 1 - 3 = 7