Nov. 8, 2010

by Trevor Freeman

Special To NCAA.com

It was a weekend that saw two of the top three teams in the nation face off in front of a standing room only audience. The atmosphere was electric from coast to coast and it was highlighted by a number of close contests between ranked squads. Postseason play officially kicked off as the CWPA Northern and Southern Divisions each crowned a champion. If you are a fan of water polo then this weekend was like strolling into an all you can eat buffet. The action was both plentiful and outstanding. We will get into all of this weeks events and more in our notebook.

We begin this weeks voyage with a stop in Palo Alto. Fourth-ranked Stanford had an impressive weekend as they knocked off eighth-ranked Long Beach State and fifth-ranked UC-Irvine to move to 12-5 overall and an impressive 5-1 in MPSF play. Prior to his teams notable set of victories, I caught up with Stanford Head Coach John Vargas to discuss his fourth-ranked Cardinal. Below is our interview.

Stanford is a perennial top five team that is always in the mix for an NCAA bid. What does the Cardinal have to do to get back to NCAAs?

We need to be a more consistent on offense and play better defense.

Sage Wright came back this season from a knee injury and has recaptured his All-American form from two seasons ago. What makes him the great player he is?

Sage thinks and plays with discipline. Plus he is a great team leader and player.

Jeffrey Schwimer has been outstanding for Stanford. What makes him the effective player that he is?

Jeffrey has been an integral part of our team the past four years. We have used him a number of different ways. He's defended for us as well as set two-meter. This season we have been focusing on him more at two-meter.

 

It was rivalry weekend in Los Angeles as third-ranked UCLA met up with second-ranked USC in this weeks marquee matchup. It was a game that USC needed to have in order to pull even with UCLA in the MPSF race and the Trojans took care of business in front of a standing room only crowd. USC jumped out to a 3-0 lead and never trailed in defeating UCLA 8-5. Joel Dennerleys fourteen saves along with Tobias Pruess hat trick led the Trojans who moved to 19-2 on the season and 4-2 in MPSF play. With the loss, UCLA dropped to 15-4 overall and 4-2 in MPSF action.

Top-ranked California blitzed their opposition over the weekend as they took down sixth-ranked UC-Santa Barbara 12-5 and eighth-ranked Long Beach State 14-7. Against UC-Santa Barbara, Ivan Rackov scored four goals while Justin Parsons racked up thirteen saves to lead the Golden Bears. Rackov also keyed the win over the 49ers as he notched four goals while Zach White chipped in a hat trick. With the two victories, California remained a perfect 6-0 in MPSF play and has now won ten in a row.

One squad that looks more dangerous by the week is seventh-ranked Pacific and they pulled off a mild upset over the weekend. In a Sunday matinee, the Tigers defeated sixth-ranked UC-Santa Barbara in Stockton by an 8-7 count. Tom Koning notched a hat trick for Pacific to lead the offense while Alex Malkis registered eleven saves to spearhead the defense. This win is crucial for a dangerous Pacific squad as it helps them close in on a possible sixth seed at the upcoming MPSF Tournament. This young Tigers team seems to be gaining momentum with each victory and could play the role of spoiler at that event.

Defense carried Loyola Marymount to two crucial WWPA victories over the weekend. The ninth-ranked Lions took down thirteenth-ranked UC-Davis along with eleventh-ranked Santa Clara and only gave up six goals in the process. Heroes included Andy Stevens who registered double-digit saves and Edgaras Asajavicius who scored four goals in the win over Santa Clara.

Fourteenth-ranked St. Francis has been the class of the East Coast all season long and they began their quest for an NCAA bid in strong fashion. The Terriers won the Northern Division title with a 14-7 win over Brown and will head into Easterns on a nine-game winning streak. St. Francis did receive a semifinal scare from Fordham at Northerns as they needed a five-goal fourth quarter to turn a 7-6 deficit into an 11-7 victory.

The top team in the Southern Division was last years NCAA third-place finisher in Princeton. The seventeenth-ranked Tigers defeated Bucknell 8-6 in the title game to capture their second championship in three seasons. Chris Cottrell and Mike Merlone were the stars for Princeton as Cottrell scored four goals while Merlone notched thirteen saves. The biggest surprise out of Southerns was Navy being upset by Bucknell13-12 in the semifinals. Entering this tournament, most observers had Navy pegged as the favorite while many were whispering that Bucknell might not get by Mercyhurst in the first round. This will have a profound impact on the pairings at Easterns. The third-place finisher in the South faces the second-place finisher in the North which means you have a first-round matchup between two teams in Navy and Brown who are probably two of the best five teams in the East. The biggest beneficiary might be St. Francis. The Terriers will face the fourth-place team out of the South which was Johns Hopkins. Following that matchup, they face the winner of Bucknell-Fordham. That means the Terriers avoid playing Navy or Princeton until the Eastern Championship game.

Player of the Week

Mike Merlone, Princeton, Sr.: Either Merlone or Mercyhursts Andy Sekulski was the best goalie in the Southern Division this season and arguably the entire East Coast. Merlone is an extremely intelligent goalkeeper who always displays perfect fundamentals. He also seems to lift his play as the games increase in magnitude as he followed up a sterling performance in last years postseason with an outstanding Southern Division tournament. In Princetons victories over Johns Hopkins and Bucknell in the tournaments semifinals and finals, Merlone had twenty-three saves. If Princeton finds its way back to the Final Four, he will be the reason.

Contest to Watch

The SCIAC Championships are taking place this weekend at Pomona-Pitzer. The host Sagehens are always tough at tournament time and they along with Cal Lutheran and Redlands are looking strong heading into the postseason.