PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Collegiate water polo is well known for its big four. The big four is generally so dominant, that when someone other than California, Stanford, UCLA, or USC even makes the NCAA Championship game it makes news. Such an event has been so rare in the last 25 years that water polo fans can recite the instances from memory.There was the last of three championships for UC Irvine in 1989, Pepperdine's championship in 1997, and UC San Diego reaching the final in 2000. That's it. Until 2013, when Pacific added a new entry to the mental catalogue with its run to the final that ended in a 12-11 overtime loss to USC.
The Tigers appearance in the title game is especially notable as it intersects with the reigning biggest of the big four, USC. The Trojans came into the title game winners of the past five NCAA titles, but perhaps more telling, this was their ninth consecutive trip to the final. They won the title back in 2005, lost two consecutive championship games to California (the most legendary of the big four), and then kicked off their now six-peat.
"I think we've shown that we've been in the shadow of the big four schools, [but] there is a possibility if people want to believe. If they want to do something bigger, if they don't want to be just a part of a program, if they want to be a reason for a program they can come to Pacific and make something happen, something special like these guys did," Graham said referring to his current team.
Only three schools have ever won an NCAA Championship outside of the big four, including the aforementioned UC Irvine, Pepperdine and UC Santa Barbara back in 1979. All have hailed from the state of California. While one year does not make a trend, it is a step in the right direction for the balance of the sport that another outsider has clawed their way into the final.
"Well this is good for water polo first of all, everybody is bored with the USCs, Cals, and Stanfords and UCLAs beating everybody," USC Head Coach Jovan Vavic said. "So having Santa Barbara, UOP, and Long Beach State and all the other teams out there getting better is good for our sport. It's going to make it tougher to win but its better, it's really more fun."
Only time will tell if this 2013 Pacific team will be something for other squads to build on or just another quickly recalled memory for college water polo fans.