LA JOLLA, Calif. -
The No. 11 UC San Diego men's water polo team jumped out to an early lead and held on the rest of the way in the Tritons' 14-7 win over No. 14 Santa Clara in Western Water Polo Association play on Friday evening at Canyonview Pool.
Josh Stiling led the way with four scores while John Butler, Lukas Syka and Joe Dietrich added two goals apiece. David Morton stopped 10 shots in goal for the Tritons, his 11th double-digit save performance of the season.
UCSD improves to 14-7 overall on the year and completes regular season WWPA play with a 12-3 mark. Santa Clara drops to 15-13 and 6-4 in WWPA play. It seems highly likely the Tritons will earn the No. 2 seed for November 17-20's WWPA Championships at UC San Diego.
"I don't think we played great tonight. We had some guys have good games, but as a team I'm not sure," said UCSD head coach Denny Harper. "As a team our defense was solid. The main thing though, I was pretty pleased with how we controlled the match from early on."
The teams traded goals to open the match, but Syka and Stiling scored on back-to back possessions for the Tritons to make it 3-1. Morton made a tough save to end the opening period and then reached back to punch a Bronco shot off the line to open the second quarter. Matt Kochalko finally beat Morton a minute in to make it 3-2, but David Higginson scored from long range to push the Triton lead back to two on UCSD's next possession.
Higginson's goal would be the first of four consecutive goals for UCSD to end the half, as Syka, Dietrich and Chris Barton got into the scoring act. Up 7-2 at the break, Harper used a steady flow of substitutes in the second half to give a number of his players considerable minutes in the water.
Back-to-back goals by Andrew Dugoni of SCU made it 8-4 with 6:27 left in the third period. Stiling took over for the next five minutes, scoring three goals in four Triton trips down the pool. After Danny Lorch drew an ejection, Stiling buried the penalty shot to give the Tritons an 11-4 lead with 1:53 left in the third. SCU tacked one back on before the whistle to make UCSD's lead six going into the final stanza.
Tucker Carlson tallied another SCU goal to open the fourth, but consecutive goals by Syka, Dietrich and William Brown put the Broncos to rest. SCU would get a consolation goal with less than a minute remaining to bring the final score line to 14-7 in favor of UCSD.
"I think we'll see this team again in the semi's (at the WWPA Championships). Pretty sure we're going to get the two seed, but not sure what's going to happen with the third and fourth seeds," said Harper.
UC Davis and Santa Clara will likely be battling for the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds for the WWPA Championship Tournament. If UCSD is granted the No. 2 seed and Santa Clara the No. 3 seed, the teams would meet each other in the semifinals if both squads win their opening matches of the tournament.
UCSD can't look past Sunday, however, as No. 1 UCLA comes into town to face the Tritons on Senior Day. Prior to the match, four Triton seniors- Matt Kerchner, Graham Saber, Brown and Morton- will be honored for their years of service to the men's water polo program. First sprint is set for noon at Canyonview Pool.
"We're going to be playing an incredibly talented team that pretty much has little or no weaknesses," said Harper. "They'll be going at us full bore but our guys will be up for it."