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Men's water polo falls short of NCAA semifinals with loss

In first tournament appearance since 1990, Bruno loses 12-7 to UCSD to end national championship hopes

The men’s water polo team began and ended its first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 1990 with a loss Saturday night, falling 12-7 to the No. 6 University of California at San Diego.

The No. 9 Bears (27-7, 11-1 CWPA) had gained a spot in the tournament by winning the Collegiate Water Polo Association Eastern Championship for the first time since 1985 with a win over No. 12 Princeton. But Bruno was seeded fifth of the six teams in the national tournament, ahead of only No. 20 Whittier College.

California teams have historically dominated the tournament, as no team from outside the state has ever played in the national title game. This year was no different: The Bears were the only non-Golden State team.

“We definitely felt like the pasty East Coast kids when we got out there,” said Henry Fox ’15.

Despite its lack of playoff precedent, Bruno stood a chance at making history. Unfortunately, the squad also faced a significant disadvantage: UCSD (16-9, 6-0 WWPA) hosted Bruno at this year’s tournament, handing the Tritons home-pool control.

“We knew that UC San Diego had all the pressure on them,” Fox said.

With the underdog mantle firmly on their shoulders, the Bears were simply excited to be there, said Fox and Will Klein ’16.

“It was just a great experience being out there in general,” Klein said.

“It was a thrill to be representing the East Coast and Brown in the NCAA tournament,” Fox added.

But the Bears were not there to simply soak it in. They intended to compete.

“We displayed to everyone who was there that we were supposed to be there,” Klein said. “We knew we were capable of beating that team.”

The Bears went blow for blow with the Tritons in the first half. UCSD took an early 4-1 lead, but Bruno weathered the storm and struck back, riding goals from Fox, the team’s leading scorer, Yahel Murvitz-Lahav ’17 and others to knot the score at five. A few goals and minutes later, the Tritons entered the second half with a 7-6 lead.

Klein said he felt the team was “in a really good position” at halftime. The Bears had been a “second-half team” all season, relying on their excellent depth and conditioning to outlast other teams, Fox said. But that was not the case Saturday.

UCSD’s Josh Stiling recorded a hat trick in the third quarter as a part of a six-goal game, while the Bears did not score in the period. Bruno was outscored 5-1 in the second half, notching only a garbage-time goal with 10 seconds remaining.

Fox praised the Tritons’ depth, saying that they had an even stronger bench than Bruno did.

“Going into the second half, they knew how to turn it on,” Klein said. He emphasized the importance of knowing how to play in big games, pointing out that UCSD had spent all season competing against the country’s top teams in California, while the Bears played on the less challenging East Coast.

“We don’t have a lot of experience in that kind of environment,” Klein said. “It was that experience in that kind of position that pulled (the Tritons) through.”

The defeat ended the Bears’ season, and with it the careers of the three seniors — Fox, Andrew Brown ’15 and Nick Deaver ’15. While the players expressed sadness about the end of their year, they looked back fondly on their team and the impact of its graduating members.

“All three of them have been not only exceptional players in the water, but have just been all around great guys on our team,” Klein said, describing the seniors as “the glue that held our team together.”

“Our unity and cohesiveness have been our driving force of our success,” Klein said, attributing that environment to the seniors.

“I was just so thankful for an amazing senior year,” Fox said. “I’ve never been on a team that had such an amazing dynamic. Even though we weren’t able to get the win, it was an incredibly rewarding experience. I was more than thrilled with how the season finished out.”

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