DAVIS, Calif. – UC San Diego claimed its 16th Western Water Polo Association (WWPA) Championship and ended UC Davis’ season for the third straight year with a 6-4 win on Sunday at Schaal Aquatics Complex in the conference championship match. It marks the second title in three years for UCSD. The Tritons earn the conference’s automatic berth in the NCAA Championship, hosted by Stanford on Dec. 7-8.
David Higginson (San Diego/The Bishop's School) and Chase Cockerill scored two goals apiece, while Cameron Ravanbach (La Jolla/La Jolla HS) recorded 16 saves in the cage for UCSD in the win. The Tritons now stand at 14-12 overall.
“This is pretty darn special,” said head coach Denny Harper. “It was not easy, obviously, but that’s without a doubt one of the best defensive efforts I think I’ve ever seen any of our teams play in a championship game. It was phenomenal.”
After one quarter, the game was knotted up 1-1 in a defensive battle. The Aggies jumped on the scoreboard first following an exclusion of the Tritons that was capitalized on by Trevor Allen for a goal. The Tritons countered with a Ravanbach save a few possessions later, who then found a sprinting Cockerill for a lob shot goal.
UCSD grabbed its first lead of the match at the 6:04 mark in the second quarter after Cockerill found Matt Michalko (San Diego/The Bishop's School) at two-meters, who fired the pass into the back of the cage for a 2-1 advantage. The Tritons extended the lead to a pair following a timeout called by head coach Denny Harper after UCSD drew an exclusion. The Tritons came out of the timeout and executed the power-play game-plan to perfection, which resulted in a Cockerill goal from the four spot to jump ahead 3-1. Davis managed to put a final tally on the scoreboard in the quarter with 21 seconds remaining to trail 3-2 at intermission.
In the half, the Tritons held the Aggies to 2-15 shooting. UCSD was crashing hard at two-meters throughout the half and Ravanbach was stout in the cage with six saves, two of which came on six-on-five advantages for Davis.
Higginson opened the third period with a deep shot fired into the back cage from about seven-meters out to extend the Triton lead to 4-2.The following possession for UCSD, Tician Toplak drew an ejection that was quickly followed by a timeout for UCSD. Higginson capitalized on the power play, following great ball movement, and scored on a skip shot to extend the lead, 5-2, with 4:22 remaining in the third period. The Tritons tacked on another tally from a Luca De Vivo lob shot off a counter-attack, assisted by Ravanbach. The Tritons outscored the Aggies 3-0 in the period and headed into the final quarter up 6-2.
UC Davis came out in the fourth with two straight scores to cut the deficit to a pair, 6-4. The high intensity battle continued throughout the quarter as Ravanbach continued to make save after save to hold the Aggie offense down. Ravanbach tallied five saves in the quarter alone before UCSD ran out the clock to win 6-4.
“Everybody played fairly well at the offensive end,” said Harper. “Eight goals was enough, especially when you play defense like that. With a Davis team like this, to have only allowed two goals going into the fourth quarter was pretty amazing. It got interesting to start the fourth, but I thought the they did a great job of regrouping and gathering themselves to hold the lead.”
Overall, the Triton defense held the Aggies to 4-32 shooting with brilliant play at the two-meter line all match. The offensive production from Higginson and Cockerill was complemented with a score each from Michalko and De Vivo.
The Aggies were led by eight blocks from Philip Bates and one goal apiece from Austin Beckwith, Allen, Zoltan Lazar and Bernie Rogers. UC Davis ends its season with a 14-13 overall record.
Ravanbach was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player after blocking 37 shots in two games. Higginson, Friedrich and Ravanbach earned All-Tournament First Team, while Dietrich earned second-team All-Tournament.
The Tritons now play on Thursday, Dec. 5 against St. Francis, the winner of the Collegiate Water Polo Association. The winner of the game will travel to the NCAA semifinal round, hosted by Stanford on Dec. 7-8 in Palo Alto.
“We are excited about extending our season,” said Harper. “That’s what everyone strives for, to keep your season going as far as you can. St. Francis will be a challenge, especially in the goal where they are really strong, and I anticipate it will be a battle.”
UCSD 1 2 3 0 - 6
UCD 1 1 0 2 - 4
UCSD: Chase Cockerill 2, David Higginson 2, Matt Michalko 1, Luca De Vivo 1
UCD: Austin Beckwith 1, Trevor Allen 1, Zoltan Lazar 1, Bernie Rogers 1
UCSD: Cameron Ravanbach 16
UCD: Philip Bates 8