Hong’s Huddle: Men’s water polo team will need to fill in gaps left by graduated seniors

Coach Adam Wright will be working with another young squad this upcoming season. UCLA men’s water polo had 10 freshmen on last year’s roster and graduated seven seniors. (Amy Dixon/Photo editor)

As temperatures shoot up, the Bruins are ready to heat up too.

The heat wave of Los Angeles County hit 117 degrees Friday – a warm welcome for UCLA men’s water polo, which will be striving for UCLA’s 117th NCAA championship this fall.

UCLA released its 2018 schedule Tuesday – and it looks like the 2017 national champions will need some sunscreen to keep them focused on defending their title.

Well, maybe a little more than that.

The Bruins will be trekking through a nearly identical schedule as the 2017 season. They will begin their season playing nonconference teams in the annual UCLA Invitational and will end that weekend with an exhibition game against USC.

UCLA will also travel to regular-season invitationals at Princeton and Stanford, which they competed in last season. UC Davis, which was ranked No. 8 last season, will be the only nontournament team UCLA did not face last year.

The more concerning factor for UCLA’s upcoming season, however, won’t be the schedule – but the absence of one of the most decorated senior classes.

The graduated class of 2018 won three national championships, garnered a 105-10 record and broke the NCAA men’s water polo record for 57 consecutive wins.

But coach Adam Wright makes the transition look easy.

It was already supposed to be a rebuilding year for UCLA last season, after losing nine seniors and working with 10 freshmen on the roster.

But the Bruins still managed to bring home UCLA’s 114th national title.

This year, Wright will lose four of his top six players in scoring, accounting for 117 of the team’s 292 total goals. And without graduated center Matt Farmer – the Bruins’ primary hole set – UCLA will need to depend on a new go-to center to spread the pool.

A reliable center will be important to earn exclusions for the team to capitalize on power plays, especially against the other three “Big Four” schools – USC, Stanford and California.

Over the last 15 years, only one NCAA championship game included a team outside the “Big Four.” However, UCLA shouldn’t sleep on the others that are up there, too.

Schools such as Pacific, UC Irvine, Long Beach State and Pepperdine finished in the top 10 last season. Each of their matchups against the Bruins had a 2 or fewer goal differential.

UCLA won three of the four matchups last year, but fell to UC Irvine on the road – its only loss to a school outside of the “Big Four.” The Bruins tied the game three times in the final frame but could not draw any exclusions to get a leg up on the Anteaters.

The Bruins will face UC Irvine and Pepperdine at home this season and will travel to play Pacific and Long Beach State on the road.

UCLA’s schedule is certainly similar to last year’s, but with a slew of new freshmen, it still has some work to do.

Read more here: http://dailybruin.com/2018/07/09/hongs-huddle-mens-water-polo-team-will-need-to-fill-in-gaps-left-by-graduated-seniors/
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