Notebook: Buck Shots
Oct. 12, 2009
by Trevor Freeman
Special to NCAA.com
It was a weekend when number one went down. It was a tournament that involved fifteen ranked teams including nine of the top ten in the country. The UCI Invitational was peppered with overtime games, one-goal thrillers and upsets. However there was one storyline bigger than all others. USC came through once again and reminded the water polo world that the path to an NCAA title still goes through the Men of Troy.
Before we get to our national review, I sat down with a coach who was prepping his team for the wild action which comprised the UCI Invitational. John Abdou became Bucknell's head coach in 2008 and he has continued a tradition of water polo success. His team is quietly tied for first in the CWPA South and is a contender for the East's Final Four spot. We chatted about his team and their Final Four prospects and below is our interview.
Bucknell has been knocking on that Final Four door for a few seasons now. What do you have to do to kick it down and get there?
We need to establish consistency and be mentally tough. That includes dealing with adversity and playing well for four quarters. All those things come with mental toughness.
Richie Hyden is putting together an All-American season. What makes him so good?
He is a competitor. Regardless of what is happening at practice, he is keeping score.
Nick Donahue has emerged in the cage for your squad. Can you tell us a little about him?
He is just touching the surface of his potential. With his great size and work ethic, success comes easy. His ceiling is as high as anybody's in the country.
Maybe USC is not sporting a gaudy winning streak anymore; however they are still the class of water polo at the NCAA level. That was in clear display at UC-Irvine as the defending champions once again assumed their place atop the water polo world with a 7-6 UCI Invitational triumph over fourth-ranked California. Up 6-3 in the third quarter, USC was able to hold off the Golden Bears for the 7-6 win. Six Trojans scored in the victory. Prior to defeating fourth-ranked California, Shea Buckner and the Trojans converted a five-meter penalty shot with 1:49 left to knock off second-ranked UCLA 9-8. This was the first time the two teams had battled since UCLA ended USC's thirty-six game winning streak. Justin Rappel led the Trojans with three goals in the victory. On the first day of the tournament, USC defeated sixth-ranked UCSB and seventeenth-ranked Bucknell by a combined score of 38-7.
California got to the UCI Invitational championship game by defeating top-ranked Stanford in the semifinals. Will Toppen won the starting goalie job earlier this season and had a huge game in the cage for the Bears as he compiled fourteen saves. Back to back fourth-quarter goals from Zach White and Mike Sample gave Cal a 9-6 cushion that they never relinquished in defeating their Bay Area rivals 10-8. The best game of the opening day involved the Golden Bears as they faced off with the fifth-ranked Lions of Loyola Marymount. Cal survived the upset bid as they turned back two power plays in the fourth quarter to hold on for a 9-8 win. Zach White scored four goals and by all accounts was the dominant force for California in this contest as he was nearly unstoppable in two meters. LMU simply could not keep him from getting good shots from point-blank range. Andy Stevens played up to his superstar billing as he was spectacular in the cage for the Lions. Stevens blocked twelve shots (including one on a five-meter penalty) and pitched a shutout in the fourth quarter which enabled Loyola Marymount to have multiple chances to tie the game. Edgaras Asajavicius scored four goals to lead the Lion offense.
Top-ranked Stanford was successfully able to rebound from their semifinal loss to California by defeating second-ranked UCLA in the third place game. Travis Noll scored his second goal of the game with 1:20 left to give the Cardinal a 5-4 victory. On the first day of the tournament, the Cardinal posted wins over Princeton and Pepperdine.
One team that has to be thrilled with their performance over the weekend at the UCI Invitational is seventh-ranked Pepperdine. The Waves finished fifth-place as they defeated Long Beach State and Loyola Marymount on day two of the tournament to capture that position. In their first game of the day, Pepperdine upset the fifth-ranked Lions 9-7. Perhaps the Lions were still down after losing a heartbreaker the night before to Cal; however that win still rates as quality for Pepperdine. Bryce McLain blocked fourteen shots to lead the way for the Waves. In the fifth place game, Pepperdine defeated eighth-ranked Long Beach State in triple overtime 12-11. Clayton Snyder scored forty-five seconds into the third stanza to secure the sudden death victory. J.P. MacDonell notched four goals while Bryce McLain blocked eleven shots to lead Pepperdine in that overtime thriller. At the beginning of the season, I personally thought that Pepperdine might find itself at the basement of the MPSF as the Waves graduated Grant Miller and Adam Hewko and then lost Australian goalie John Hahn over the summer. However, the Waves have gotten better with the campaign and could be a team to watch down the stretch.
There were other games outside of the campus of UC-Irvine and one of them was a crucial CWPA Northern Division matchup. Brown versus Harvard is one of the outstanding rivalries in NCAA water polo and those two schools hooked up on Saturday afternoon. A 6-0 second quarter Brown run blew open what was a tight game. The final score was 15-8 with freshman sensation Svetozar Stefanovic's five goals leading the way. Johns Hopkins faced off with George Washington in a Friday night CWPA South matchup and the Blue Jays emerged with a 10-4 victory. Jeremy Selbst's twelve saves and Peter Sauerhoff's three goals led the way for Hopkins.
Player of the Week
Zachary White, California, Jr.: The two-meter from El Toro, California was electric at the UCI Invitational in spearheading the Golden Bears to a second place finish. He scored four goals against both Stanford and Loyola Marymount in leading Cal to two close victories. White was an alternate on the 2009 World University Games team and led Team USA to a silver medal at the 2009 Maccabiah Games.
Game to Watch
California travels down South to face UCLA in a game that is a must-win on both sides. With the margin for error razor-thin in the NCAA at-large race, UCLA and California cannot afford to have a loss to another candidate for that bid dotting their resume. Cal is also currently 0-1 in MPSF play. Losing a second conference game would leave the Golden Bears with no margin for error heading into the rest of the conference slate.