2023 NCAA Men’s Water Polo Championship
- Friday, December 1-Sunday, December 3
- Uytengsu Aquatics Center, Los Angeles, CA
- Tournament Central
The 2023 NCAA Men’s Water Polo Championship continued on Saturday at the Uystengsu Aquatic Center on the University of Southern California campus. The top four seeds (UCLA, Cal, USC, and Princeton) all won their quarterfinal matches and meet in the semifinals to determine who would advance to the championship on Sunday.
UCLA 17, Princeton 13
From the UCLA press release: No. 3 UCLA (26-2), the NCAA Championship’s top seed, advanced to the title game for the first time since winning it all in 2021 (for the 2020 Championship) with a 17-13 win over No. 5 and fourth-seeded Princeton on Saturday afternoon at USC’s Uytengsu Aquatics Center. UCLA improved to 19-0 all-time in the series history.
The Bruins had nine players score in the contest, with redshirt senior Jack Larsen leading the way with four goals. Freshman Wade Sherlock and redshirt senior Giorgio Alessandria also contributed hat tricks in the win. Senior Rafael Real Vergara was the fourth Bruin to score in double figures with two goals. Senior Makoto Kenney led the Bruins in scoring with nine points on the strength of a career-high eight assists to go with one goal.
Senior Garret Griggs got the start in the cage and went the distance, tallying eight saves, four steals, one assist and one goal scored while surrendering 13 goals.
The Bruins won the first period, 4-3. After the Tigers scored first (7:34), Jack Larsen scored his first goal of the day on a counter to tie the game at 1-1. Princeton scored back-to-back goals, taking a 3-1 lead. But Sherlock’s first goal on the day on a power play (3:06) that was assisted by Kenney, cut the Tigers’ lead to 3-2. Sherlock’s second goal with a second assist from Kenney (2:24) quickly tied the game, 3-3. Real Vergara’s first goal (0:02) closed out scoring in the first period on a powerful shot that sailed right over the goalie’s head.
The Princeton Tigers took a slight edge in the second period, beating out the Bruins 5-3 to take an 8-7 lead into halftime. The domination of the Sherlock and Kenney duo continued as the second period began with Sherlock completing his hat trick on a power play (5:10) as Kenney’s assist total climbed to three to push the lead to 5-3. After a Princeton goal (4:25), freshman Ben Lietchy scored his first on a power play (3:38) to make it 6-4. Two more goals from the Tigers (2:47 and 2:21) tied the game at 6-6, but Jack Larsen’s second goal of the day (0:56) put the Bruins back in front at 7-6. But the Tigers scored two goals in the final 0:33 (0:33 and 0:05) to reclaim the lead.
The Bruins bounced back in the third period, winning 4-2 and taking a narrow 11-10 lead into the final stanza. Off of a steal by Griggs, Kenney tied the game 8-8 on his first goal (6:35) on a counter. Gray Carson’s lone goal (5:50) gave UCLA a 9-8 lead with Kenney recording his fifth assist. UCLA would build a 10-8 lead on a strong catch and finish (4:30) by Alessandria off an assist from Kenney. After another goal by Princeton (4:09) cut the Bruins’ lead to one, but some strong UCLA defense followed to keep the Bruins in front. Jack Larsen completed his hat trick on a power play (1:10) off a seventh assist from Kenney to take an 11-9 lead. But Princeton answered with a power play goal (0:33) to end the scoring in the third trailing 11-10 to the Bruins.
UCLA won the fourth quarter, 6-3, to ice the game for a 17-13 victory. Princeton opened the scoring in the fourth (6:52) to tie the game at 11-11, but Real Vergara scored his second on a power play off another feed from Kenney (6:08) to put the Bruins back in front. Alessandria scored his second (4:08) to extend the lead to 13-11. Jack Larsen scored his fourth on a power play off a feed from Ben Liechty (3:09) to push the lead to 14-11. After a power play goal by the Tigers (2:52), Alessandria completed his hat trick on a two-meter shot (2:41) off a feed from Ben Liechty to make it 15-12. Then the Tigers pulled their goalie to try and steal the ball, but Jucá Carsalade scored his lone goal on an empty net (0:45) to put the Bruins in front 16-12. After a power play goal from Princeton (0:31), Griggs scored on a full-length shot on an empty net with 0:05 remaining to provide the 17-13 final.
Cal 10, USC 9
From the Cal press release: For the third consecutive year, the Golden Bears are going back to the NCAA Championship game.
The California men’s water polo team edged out USC 10-9 in the Trojans’ (16-7) home pool on Saturday behind a late go-ahead goal by Marci Szatmary. The Bears advance to face top-seeded UCLA Sunday at 3 p.m. PT with a chance to three-peat for a record third time.
“We knew we were going to be in for a battle. I felt like our guys really made plays that we needed to make and handled the adversity and pressure that USC was putting on us consistently,” Cal head coach Kirk Everist said. “We weren’t afraid of the moment.”
Szatmary’s lone goal of the day couldn’t have come at a better time. After USC erased a two-goal deficit in the fourth quarter to tie it at 9-9, Szatmary fired in a decisive and confident shot from the right wing right over the head of USC goalkeeper Bernardo Herzer with 1:47 remaining.
Goalkeeper Adrian Weinberg came up with his 11th and final save on the Trojans’ next possession and Cal was able to kill the clock, keeping the ball out of USC’s hands until there were only three seconds left. Coming out of a timeout, the Trojans quickly forced the ball inside, but it sailed out of bounds with time running out.
With their third win of the season over the Trojans – who entered the weekend with a No. 1 national ranking – the Bears knocked them out of the NCAA Championship for the third consecutive year.
“Credit to our team for being ready and being able to put us in position to get stops,” Weinberg said. “Because we were able to play good defense, come out hard and not flat, I was able to make those saves.”
It was a rare scoreless outing for center Nikolaos Papanikolaou, who had the entire USC defense keyed in on doing whatever it can to stop him. The two-time reigning national player of the year drew a season-best nine exclusions though – five more than any other player.
Jake Howerton led all players with four goals and Max Casabella notched his team-leading 14th hat trick of the year. For Howerton, it was the third time in the last seven games that he’s put away a season-high four goals.
Both Bears scored early to give their team a 2-0 advantage several minutes in. The Trojans responded with two unanswered goals of their own, but Jordi Gascon whipped in a vicious backhand from center to give the lead back to Cal. Casabella finished off a power play in the final seconds of the quarter to put the Bears up 4-2.
The second period provided a defensive stalemate which USC finally ended at the 2:14 mark to cut the lead to one. Another goal by Howerton kept the Bears up 5-4 going into halftime.
After the break, Howerton immediately got back to work, throwing in goals from straightaway on each of the Bears’ first two possessions to give them their largest lead of the day, 7-4. The Trojans went on a 5-2 run to tie it at 9-9 early in the fourth, but were held scoreless over the final six minutes of the game.