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Ex-county stars help UCLA reach NCAA tournament
LOS ANGELES UCLA’s recruiting coup in February continued to pay huge dividends Sunday afternoon in the finals of MPSF men’s water polo championships.
Behind three goals by freshman Josh Samuels (Villa Park) and another by Griffin White (El Toro), the fourth-seeded Bruins defeated No. 3 Cal, 10-7, at USC to earn a trip to the NCAA championships for the first time since its title season of 2004.
The NCAA finals are next weekend at Princeton.
“We were lucky – we landed an unbelievable recruiting class (in February), which I really felt we needed,” UCLA coach Adam Wright said.
“In the beginning of the season, we were willing to work with them and get them time because we knew we were going to need them in the end.”
UCLA (22-6) also continued to ride the play of senior goalie Chay Lapin (five saves) but Samuels and White made major contributions.
Cal (22-6) led 4-3 midway through the third period when the Golden Bears earned a penalty shot against high-scoring Scott Davidson (Los Alamitos), who also received a game exclusion on the play. But Lapin (Long Beach Wilson) blocked the penalty shot by Ivan Rackov, a sophomore from Serbia.
About a minute later, White made a steal near midpool and earned a penalty shot on the counterattack. Ben Hohl, from Northern California’s Menlo, converted the 5-meter chance to tie the score, 4-4, with 4:27 left in the third.
Samuels then netted a power-play goal coming out of a timeout with three minutes left in the third to give the Bruins the lead for good at 5-4. Samuels, The Register’s male athlete of the year in June, scored the first goal of the fourth by pushing in a rebound on the counterattack on a miss by Cullen Hennessy. Samuels started the counterattack guarding 2 meters.
UCLA’s Cole Consani added another power-play strike with 6:10 left in the fourth and the Bruins had a cushion that helped them claim their first MPSF tournament crown since 2000.
“Ever since we first beat USC at Stanford (in September), I think the rest of the team, myself included, thought for sure we could make it all the way,” Samuels said. “Especially with how hard we’ve been working.”
Zach White, Griffin’s older brother, led Cal with three goals. Spencer White, also a sibling, scored once for Cal. Corona del Mar product Jacob Murphy scored from 2 meters for UCLA.
The Bruins beat top-seeded and reigning NCAA champion USC, 10-6, in the semifinals but the Trojans later received an at-large berth to the NCAA championships. USC's chances were bolstered with a critical 9-7 victory against Stanford in the third-place match.