Notebook: The Big Four
Nov. 10, 2009
By Trevor Freeman
Special to NCAA.com
Postseason officially kicked off this weekend as the CWPA Northern and Southern Divisions hosted two hotly contested championships. That was not the only significant action as two cross-town rivals met in a contest that will go down as one of the season’s best. With the games taking on increased importance, the quality of action was superb from coast to coast. We begin our look at the national scene in Los Angeles where two teams with national ambitions clashed for city superiority.
Manchester United versus Chelsea was not the only matchup of two teams from a nicknamed “Big Four” that happened this weekend. Top-ranked USC traveled to UCLA and faced off with the fourth-ranked Bruins in what was a classic encounter. In front of a packed house, UCLA held a 6-5 lead going into the fourth quarter. However, that slim margin would not hold up as the defending NCAA Champion Trojans pitched a shutout in the fourth quarter and received goals from Matt Burton along with Kyle Sterling to pull out the victory. The goal by Sterling came on a beautiful pass from Peter Kurzeka while up on the power play. Kurzeka gave what looked to be a head fake and lobbed the pass from the perimeter to Sterling on the post. Sterling caught it at suit level and put home the incredible game-winner. Matt Burton and Shea Buckner each scored twice to lead USC while Joel Dennerley chipped in ten saves. This loss was devastating for UCLA as while their overall record is 18-6, they drop to 1-6 against USC, Stanford and Cal. That means UCLA’s chances of getting an NCAA at-large bid ahead of all three of those teams are extremely slim. Winning the MPSF Tournament now looks to be UCLA’s only real road into the NCAA Final Four.
The two teams most likely to prevent a repeat NCAA Championship for USC are second-ranked California and third-ranked Stanford. The two Bay Area rivals were both in action this week against top ten opponents and they each cruised to victory. California’s road trip through southern California took them to ninth-ranked UC Santa Barbara and eighth-ranked Long Beach State. Their matchup with UCSB was a low-scoring affair which California did not take control over until the third quarter. Two goals in the third gave California a 6-2 lead that they would never relinquish. Seven different players each scored a goal to lead Cal to the 7-4 win. An easier time was had against the 49ers as Cal broke open a 4-3 game in the second quarter by scoring four of the next five goals. Ivan Rackov scored four times to lead California in the 12-7 win. Third-ranked Stanford extended their winning streak to eight games with wins over Long Beach State and UC-Irvine. In Saturday’s contest with Long Beach State, Drac Wigo fired home five goals to lead the Cardinal to an 11-6 win. Stanford defeated seventh-ranked UC-Irvine 12-5 and the heroes of that contest were Ryan McCarthy, Jacob Smith and Jimmie Sandman. McCarthy and Smith each notched a hat trick to lead the offense while Sandman’s nine saves keyed the defense.
Sixth-ranked Loyola Marymount remained undefeated against WWPA foes as they knocked off fourteenth-ranked Santa Clara and fifteenth-ranked Air Force. The game against Santa Clara could be a preview of the WWPA Finals as the Broncos have been strong all season. With that as the backdrop, Loyola Marymount’s defense impressed. They held Santa Clara to only ten shots on goal and scored a key 7-5 win. In their matchup with Air Force, Loyola Marymount had to fight power outages along with a strong Falcons squad as a two hour delay interrupted their game midway through the third quarter with Air Force winning 3-2. When the power came back on, so did Loyola Marymount as the Lions outscored Air Force 6-1 the rest of the way to win 9-4. Tibor Forai scored four times in the Loyola Marymount victory.
Out East, the CWPA Northern and Southern Division Championships took place. In the North, seeding held to form and regular season co-champions Fordham and Brown met for the tournament crown. Down 7-4 entering the fourth quarter, Fordham came storming back and had a chance to tie the game in the final thirty-seven seconds. However, freshman Cyrus Mojdehi made a crucial steal and Brown ran out the clock to win an 8-7 thriller. Gordon Hood’s five goals led the Bears. Entering this game, the general feeling was that the winner would have an easier road at Easterns as that team would avoid Navy, Princeton or Bucknell in the first round. However, Johns Hopkins defeating Bucknell in the South’s third place game threw a wrinkle into that plan. The current setup is that the top seeded team in the North faces the fourth seeded team in the South while the second seeded team in the North faces the third seeded team in the South. The Hopkins upset means that Brown will be facing Bucknell in what should be an incredible first round game, while Fordham will be facing Johns Hopkins.
Navy’s football team was not the only group from Annapolis that made noise this weekend as the water polo squad also deserves headlines for their performance. The Midshipmen have made three straight NCAA Final Fours and are primed to make a fourth appearance. The twelfth-ranked team in the country cruised to their twelfth Southern Division title in seventeen seasons as they defeated seventeenth-ranked Princeton by a final score of 10-5.
Player of the Week
J.P. MacDonell, Pepperdine, Sr.: Fifth-ranked Pepperdine defeated tenth-ranked Concordia and thirteenth-ranked Pacific on Saturday and MacDonell was a big reason why. The senior led the Waves in scoring for both contests and had nine total goals on the day. MacDonell is one of the top field players in the country and is coming off a summer in which he competed for Team USA in the World University Games.
Game to Watch
J.W. Krumpholz. Janson Wigo. Shea Buckner. Drac Wigo. Matt Sagehorn. Jimmie Sandman. USC. Stanford. In a rematch of last season’s NCAA Championship game, third-ranked Stanford travels to USC on Homecoming weekend to take on the Trojans (note the water polo game is the delicious appetizer before the football teams of each school face off in the main course). If USC wins this game, their road to the regular season MPSF crown becomes very manageable as their only remaining conference game beyond Stanford is seventh-ranked UC-Irvine. While Stanford is also undefeated in league play, the Cardinal has second-ranked California in their conference finale.
The SCIAC will be contesting their tournament championship this weekend with Whittier and Pomona-Pitzer entering as the favorites. Whittier went undefeated in conference play which was the first time they had done that since 1994. Keep an eye on Whittier goalie Casey Regehr as he has been outstanding this season. Regehr is currently leading the country in total saves and has a 13.81 saves per game average. He was a second-team Division III All-American last season and is a lock to be on the first string this year. Regehr should also be a heavy contender for Division III Player of the Year honors.