2021 NCAA Men’s Water Polo Championship Final
- Sunday, December 5, 2021
- Spieker Aquatics Center, Westwood, California
- 2:00 PM
The California Golden Bears defeated USC 13-12 to win their 15th NCAA championship on Sunday, claiming the national title for the first time since 2016. It was USC’s 16th NCAA final in 17 consecutive tournaments.
It was a tight battle from start to finish, with ten ties and five lead changes, but Cal’s Nikos Delagrammatikas scored the winning goal with 28 seconds left on the clock and tournament MVP Nikos Papanikolaou blocked USC’s last-ditch effort to secure the victory for the Bears.
The Trojans got off to an early lead with a pair of goals from Hannes Daube (7:03) and Jacob Mercep (3:34). Cal’s Max Casabella scored on a 5-meter penalty shot with 3:20 left in the first period. George Avakian (1:18) evened the score at 2-2 and teammate Jack Deely (0:18) converted on a 6-on-5 to put Cal up 3-2 at the end of the first.
USC’s Ashworth Molthen evened the score at 3-3 with 7:32 on the clock in the second period. Papanikolaou put one in for Cal (5:53) to give the Bears the lead again. Tom McGuire (3:29) and Molthen (2:52) landed two goals in quick succession, and now USC led 5-4. Cal’s Casabella (1:44) scored on another 5-meter penalty shot, but Molthen blasted his third with 1:25 left in the half to put USC up again, this time 6-5. The Bears converted another 6-on-5 opportunity with a goal from Roberto Valera (1:12) and it was tied at 6-6 at the halftime break.
Papanikolaou (7:18) opened the third with another goal to put Cal ahead 7-6, but USC netted three in a row to pull ahead 9-7. First, Chris Sturtevant found the back of the net with 6:12 on the clock, then Daube went scored back-to-back goals at 5:45 and 4:25. Cal bounced back with a pair of their own, as Casabella took advantage of another 6-on-5 (3:47) and Valera equalizing to make it 9-9 with 1:23 to go in the third.
The drama continued in the fourth period. The Trojans got on the board with a goal from Wyatt Barker (7:44). Cal’s Casabella evened the score at 10-10 with a 5-meter penalty (7:26) before Barker scored again (7:11) to give USC a 11-10 lead. Another Valera goal (3:00), this time on a power play, tied the game at 11-11. USC’s Jake Ehrhardt scored next (2:29), but Cal’s Deely leveled the game at 12-12 with 2:12 left. With 28 seconds left on the clock, Cal’s Delagrammatikas found the back of the net, putting the Bears ahead 13-12. Papanikolaou knocked down USC’s final shot with two seconds left to secure the Bears’ 15th NCAA championship, the most titles among Division I men’s water polo programs.
Cal’s Papanikolaou was named MVP of the NCAA Championship while teammates Deely, Casabella, and goalie Adrian Weinberg were named to the NCAA Championship All-Tournament First Team. USC’s Daube, Mercep, and Molthen also made the First Team. Cal’s Delagrammatikas and USC goalie Nic Porter were selected for the Second Team.