PALO ALTO, Calif. – The tenth-ranked UC San Diego men’s water polo season concluded at Avery Aquatic Center on the campus of Stanford Thursday, falling to No. 11 St. Francis College Brooklyn 6-5 in the NCAA Championship play-in game.
The Tritons conclude the season with a 14-14 overall record, a 16th Western Water Polo Association title and a 12th appearance at the National Collegiate Water Polo Championship. St. Francis (32-10) moves into the four-team bracket following the win and will face top-seed USC on Saturday at 4 p.m.
In an absolute battle of a water polo match, Cameron Ravanbach (La Jolla/La Jolla HS) recorded 17 saves in the cage to keep the Tritons in the game until the final whistle. Tommy Friedrich (Carlsbad/Carlsbad HS), the lone senior of the UCSD squad, led the Tritons with a pair of goals in the loss.
The Terriers outscored the Tritons 3-1 in the second half to grab the win and a spot in the NCAA semifinals, led by a hat-trick from Ilija Djuretic and 10 saves in goal from Igor Mladenovic. St. Francis forced 15 turnovers and was the recipient of two missed penalty shots by UCSD, which proved to be the difference in the game.
“It was a disappointing loss, to say the least,” said head coach Denny Harper. “I was very pleased with how we played today defensively, but unfortunately at the offensive end something was haywire. You can’t win many games with that amount of turnovers.”
The first period was a battle defensively, as Ravanbach spearheaded a shutout in the cage. The Terriers set the tone of the defensive effort early after Mladenovic blocked a five-meter penalty from Joe Dietrich. After minutes of play, David Higginson (San Diego/The Bishop's School) broke the scoreless stretch with a shot from about seven meters out that nailed the upper right corner of the cage to put UCSD 1-0. Dietrich ended the scoring in the first with a cannon from the outside that beat the keeper to take the Tritons up 2-0 after the first.
After being held scoreless in the opening period, St. Francis scored three goals in the second period to jump right back into the game. UCSD countered with a pair of scores in the quarter, the first coming on a 6-on-5 advantage with a score from Chase Cockerill. The scoring in the quarter ended with a pass from Luca De Vivo to Friedrich, who took the pass for a one-timer into the back of the net. The Tritons led 4-3 at intermission
St. Francis came out in the third and scored a pair of goals to grab its first lead of the game 5-4. Down a goal heading into the final period, the Tritons found the equalizer with 7:06 remaining. Matt Michalko (San Diego/The Bishop's School) fired a shot at the two-meter line that was saved by Mladenovic, but was rebounded and scored by Friedrich to knot the game at 5-5.
The Terriers countered at the 6:39 mark with what proved to be the game-winning goal after Djuretic was awarded a five-meter penalty and buried it into the cage. The Tritons had three chances to tie the game, but a De Vivo shot was stopped by Mladenovic before Cockerill and Dietrich fired shots off the post that nearly tied the game. Time eventually ran out on UCSD and their season, falling 6-5.
The Tritons return a solid group in 2014 with only one senior on the roster, Friedrich, and also get back Josh Stiling and Lukas Syka after redshirting this season. Friedrich will be missed, however, and ended the season as UCSD’s top scorer.
“Tommy brought so much to this group and I thought he had an absolutely outstanding year, both as a player and as a leader,” said Harper. “I am certainly going to miss him as a player, but I’ll always have Tommy in my days going forward.”
After entering the 2013 season with many question marks, Harper looks forward to making another run at the conference title and another showing at the NCAA Championship in 2014 after he witnessed significant growth throughout the season.
“I don’t think anyone would have thought we would have been in this position to play in the first ever play-in game at the beginning of the year,” said Harper. “Even though I’m very disappointed we didn’t play good water polo today, overall being here for this experience is great for the guys going forward. Unfortunately, today was just the Terriers day.”
UCSD 2 2 0 1 - 5
SFBK 0 3 2 1 - 6
UCSD: Tommy Friedrich 2, David Higginson 1, Joe Dietrich 1, Chase Cockerill 1
SFBK: Ilija Djuretic 3, Nathan Kotylak 1, Vuk Vujosevic 1, Lazar Komadinic 1
UCSD: Cameron Ravanbach 17
SFBK: Igor Mladenovic 10