LA JOLLA, Calif. - The UC San Diego men's water polo team is in the hunt for its 15th conference championship after a 10-2 victory over Santa Clara in the semifinals of the Western Water Polo Assocation Championships on Saturday afternoon at Canyonview Aquatic Center.
The second-seeded Tritons advance to play fourth-seeded UC Davis (22-10) at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday for the conference crown. UCD upset No. 1 Loyola Marymount (16-8) in sudden victory on Saturday, 7-6. The winner will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Championships December 4-5 at Cal.
"We were very confident going into this thing," said UCSD head coach Denny Harper. "It was a complete game for us and I'm really stoked about how our bench play came through."
Graham Saber opened the scoring for the Tritons on their first possession of the game and Lukas Syka skipped a shot under the arm of the SCU keeper to make it 2-0 four minutes in. After Daley Meistrell answered the next time down for the Broncos, UCSD (16-9) would score eight unanswered goals to put the match away.
Joe Dietrich added a first quarter goal and John Butler opened the second quarter with a goal to increase the lead to 4-1 at the 6:30 mark. From there, the Triton defense dug in. David Morton blocked a point-blank shot by Matthew Kochalko with his forehead, sending the ball into the UCSD pep band, much to the delight of the capacity crowd.
Morton tallied six saves in the quarter as Santa Clara (18-17) went 0-for-8 on shot attempts. David Higginson and Josh Stiling scored before the break to make it 6-1 UCSD at half time.
The Tritons blanked the Broncos 4-0 in the third, thanks in large part to three consecutive goals by Saber. A close-range goal from Stiling capped the Triton run, making it 10-1 with a minute left in the third.
Equipped with ample breathing room, Harper allowed some of his younger players to perform the rest of the way. Unfortunately, the Tritons were held scoreless in the final stanza, but held SCU to just a single goal.
Morton finished the day with 14 saves. He has 22 saves over two games in the tournament. Saber finished with four goals, matching his total from Friday's win over Claremont.
There will be a new conference champion no matter the outcome of Sunday's UCSD-UCD battle. LMU had won the previous four conference titles dating back to 2007. The last team to win the WWPA title who wasn't named LMU? UCSD- way back in 2006.
"(UC) Davis is a very physical team. We have had trouble with physical
teams this year a little bit, but we'll be ready for this," said Harper.
"It's going to take a complete defensive effort, that's for sure."
The first 100 UCSD students to Sunday's game will receive free admission, courtesy of Triton Tide.