Oct. 5, 2009

 

By Trevor Freeman
Special to NCAA.com


One versus Two.  Stanford versus UCLA.  On Saturday afternoon, two giants in the world of water polo squared off with the number one ranking at stake.  Outside of a champion defending their title, there is usually not more riveting drama than when the top two teams in the country meet up in a battle for supremacy.

In this clash of the titans, Stanford held off UCLA for an 8-6 win.  The sequence which really determined this game came at the end of the first half.  UCLA was down by two goals and was on the power play.  Janson Wigo stole a UCLA pass and tipped it back to goalie Jimmie Sandman who then hit a streaking Drac Wigo for a quick counterattack score.  This was essentially a two-goal swing and it gave the Cardinal a 5-2 lead at halftime.  Stanford would never relinquish control.  The Wigo Brothers led the way as they combined for six goals on the afternoon.  Jimmie Sandman chipped in nine saves in the Cardinal victory.  The hangover of the loss to Stanford affected UCLA in their first quarter performance against eleventh-ranked Santa Clara as they fell behind 3-0 on Sunday.  However, the Bruins got their act in gear in the second quarter and coasted to an 11-5 win behind two goals each from Scott Davidson, Cullen Hennessy, Ben Hohl and Emilio Vieira.

Stanford and UCLA was not the only marquee matchup that happened this week as third-ranked USC traveled up North to hook up with fourth-ranked California.  USC may be ranked third in the polls, but when they play like they did on Saturday, it is tough to argue that they are still not the favorites to win the NCAA title.  The defending NCAA Champions controlled play and held a 6-1 lead at one point in the third quarter against fourth-ranked California.  The final result was an 8-6 Trojan win in front of a packed house at Berkeley.  Justin Rappel and Kyle Sterling each notched two goals in the victory.  Spencer Warden had a great game for Cal in defeat as he scored three goals including one from the length of the pool to end the third period.

One team that has quietly been playing great water polo over the last month is Loyola Marymount.  Fifth-ranked LMU was in action on Saturday and they smothered twelfth-ranked UC Davis.  The Lions shut out the Aggies for the first two periods and cruised to an 8-4 victory.  Edgaras Asajavicius and Charlie Horton each had two goals while Andy Stevens blocked nine shots to lead the Lions.  This win was Loyola Marymount’s twenty-third straight against WWPA foes.  

Out East, the Tigers of Princeton bounced back from last week’s loss to eighteenth-ranked Bucknell in a big way.  Princeton strung together their two best games of the season in taking down tenth-ranked Navy and eighteenth-ranked Bucknell.  The win over Navy came on Saturday and the final result was shocking.  Princeton defeated the Midshipmen 7-3.  Holding Navy to that low of an output is extremely impressive.  Mike Merlone blocked twelve shots and Mark Zalewski notched three goals in the victory.  The following day, Princeton exacted revenge on Bucknell.  Mark Zalewski put another hat trick on the board to lead the Tigers to a 12-5 win.  Princeton and Bucknell are now tied atop the CWPA South standings with a 4-1 conference record.

The Claremont Convergence took place this weekend and there were a number of solid teams taking part.  Of all the schools competing, Pomona-Pitzer had the best weekend.  Not only did the Sagehens win all four of their games, but they scored what might be the most mind-blowing upset of the season as they took down eleventh-ranked Santa Clara 10-9.  Pomona-Pitzer also won games against Fordham, Harvard and Gannon.  Alexander Rodriguez is an underrated coach and he quietly has his team playing very solid water polo right now.

Player of the Week

Janson Wigo, Stanford, Sr.:   The lefty from Fort Lauderdale led the Cardinal with four goals in their huge 8-6 win over second-ranked UCLA.  In my opinion, Janson Wigo has been the best left-handed player in the country over the past two seasons.  He combines an incredible shot with outstanding speed and has the ability to take games over.

Game to Watch

The SoCal Invitational takes place this weekend and it will include the top eight teams in the country and a majority of the top sixteen.  Stanford enters as the top-ranked team in the country and is the presumptive favorites.  However, it would not surprise me if third-ranked USC reassumes their perch atop the water polo world.  The Trojans have a tough road as they are likely to face second-ranked UCLA in the semifinals and top-ranked Stanford in the finals.  

The top four seeds in the tournament are Stanford, UCLA, USC and California.  It would be a surprise if the first three teams did not advance through to the semifinals.  However, California is likely to see fifth-ranked Loyola Marymount on Saturday in a matchup that will be must-see water polo.  California will be showing up for the game with potent scorers in Ivan Rackov, Cory Nasoff, and Zach White along with Spencer Warden who is one of the top two-way players in the country.  Loyola Marymount will counter with a balanced offense led by Lithuanian lefty Edgaras Asajavicius and a stifling defense headlined by their incredible goalie Andy Stevens.