It was an odd start to the home opener for the Long Beach State men’s water polo team Friday night. Thirteen seconds into the match, the scoreboard and shot clocks went blank. A technical difficulty caused a delay to the start of the game between Long Beach and the No. 2 ranked UCLA Bruins. It was only the beginning of a tough night for the No. 7 ranked team in the nation.
The home crowd of 771 at the Ken Lindgren Aquatics Center was electrifying all night, cheering on the their home team, but Long Beach State (6-4) couldn’t pull of a comeback win as it fell 9-7 to UCLA (12-0). Long Beach was led by senior Austin Stevenson and sophomore goalie Marwan Darwish. Stevenson was a force on the offensive end with a three-goal performance, while Darwish anchored the defense with nine saves in goal.
“The last three games Marwan played are the best three I’ve seen him play since he came to Long Beach State,” redshirt junior Austin Stewart said. “He gets us fired up and he makes huge blocks, he’s really stepped up for us.”
The Bruins jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the first quarter, but the 49ers quickly responded with two of their own just before the quarter ended. The second quarter posed a lot of challenges for Long Beach. The team’s offense struggled to get the ball into the center, as junior Johnathan Wong was clobbered by the Bruin defense all night. Long Beach found themselves taking a number of outside shots as a result.
“UCLA did a great job of keeping it out of [the middle] and we tried to catch them off guard a couple times,” head coach Gavin Arroyo said. “Sometimes we did, sometimes we didn’t.”
At halftime, Long Beach trailed 6-3, and it looked like the Bruins would cruise to victory, scoring four goals heading into the break.
The 49ers didn’t back down from the defending national champions, coming out in the third quarter with grit and fire. Stevenson and senior attacker Lovro Miocevic scored goals early on in the quarter, but UCLA responded with two of its own as the third quarter came to a close.
Long Beach went on to score two goals in the fourth quarter but it wasn’t enough, as UCLA took a 9-7 lead with 1:19 left in the game and sealed the win over Long Beach.
“After Wednesday’s [loss] we needed to re-identify ourselves with our approach and with who we’re gonna be and that’s all we really focused on doing tonight,” Arroyo said. “It was great to play at home in front of a great crowd.”
Next up for Long Beach is another home matchup against No. 10 Pepperdine on Friday, October 5. The game marks the beginning of Golden Coast Conference play for the 49ers, who look to win the conference and earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“If we play like [tonight] we’ll be undefeated in the GCC,” Stewart said.