Dec. 6, 1999
LOS ANGELES - The UCLA men's water polo squad closed out the millenium with its third NCAA championship title in the last five years by defeating Stanford 6-5 in the title game Sunday, Dec. 5 at UC San Diego's Canyonview Pool. With the victory, the Bruins become the first team ever to win both the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championship and the NCAA title in the same season since the adoption of a four-team championship format in 1995. From 1969 through 1994, the championship tournament comprised of eight teams. Prior to the current format, Stanford was the last team to win both the MPSF and national titles in the same year in 1994. The UCLA men's water polo squad has now won a total of six NCAA titles (1969, 1971, 1972, 1995, 1996, 1999) in 23 appearances. This year's team ends the season with a 22-3 overall record, and 8-0 in conference play.
BRUINS HOLD ON TO BEAT STANFORD, ONE MORE TIME: Once again, the Stanford Cardinal proved to be a formidable foe when a championship title was on the line. Just last weekend in the MPSF championship, the Bruins and Cardinal went down to the wire, with UCLA getting a clutch goal from junior Blake Wellen with one second remaining in the second overtime period giving UCLA the 12-11 victory and the conference title. This time with an NCAA title on the line, the Bruins battled back from a 4-1 deficit to score five unanswered goals, including three in the third quarter to hold on for the victory. The game was not without drama, as Stanford's Brian Heifferon attempted a two-point shot with six seconds remaining that would have given the Cardinal the win, but UCLA true freshman goalkeeper Brandon Brooks perserved the victory with a save. The Bruins cruised past Massachusetts 14-6 in the semifinal game Saturday, Dec. 4 as nine different players put points on the board.
KERN NAMED NCAA TOURNEY MVP: Junior Sean Kern topped all competitors with eight goals in two games in the NCAA championship last weekend, earning tournament most valuable player honors. Kern, a two-time All-American, scored four points in each of the Bruins' two games. In the title game against Stanford, Kern scored two consecutive points to tie the game with 2:03 left in the third quarter. With UCLA leading 5-4, Kern added his fourth goal of the game early in the fourth quarter to cushion the Bruins' advantage before Stanford scored again to cut the lead to 6-5. Kern leads the Bruins in scoring with a career-high 55 points.
ARMATO, BROOKS, WELLEN EARN ALL-TOURNEY HONORS: Senior Matt Armato joined Kern on the NCAA all-tournament first-team, while Wellen and Brooks earned second-team honors. Armato scored the eventual game-winner over Stanford. Wellen provided the Bruins with a stellar defensive performance and scored one goal vs. Massachusetts, while Brooks tied a career-high with 11 saves against UMass.
MORE TOURNAMENT NOTES & HIGHLIGHTS: UCLA senior reserve Sam Bailey scored the first two-pointer of his career in the Bruins' 14-6 semifinal rout over UMass, giving him a career-high six points this season despite limited playing time'Also improving their point totals this past weekend were junior Adam Wright (three points), Armato (two points), junior Dave Parker (one), junior Andy Bailey (one), sophomore Jeff Pflueger (one) and junior Brian Brown (one)'In five total meetings this season, Kern tallied a total of eight goals vs. Stanford'In turn, the Bruins held Stanford's leading scorer Brian Heifferon to just two goals in five games'The only other NCAA championship meeting between Stanford and UCLA occurred in 1976, with the Cardinal emerging victorious 13-12'.Massachusetts defeated host UC San Diego 12-9 in the third place game of the NCAA championship, its highest finish in six trips to the tournament'The fourth-seeded Minutemen stormed back from a 9-5 fourth quarter deficit to upset the Tritons, scoring seven points in the final frame.
1999 UCLA MEN'S WATER POLO REGULAR SEASON RECAP: Led by co-head coaches Guy Baker and Adam Krikorian, the 1999 Bruins captured the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championship title by defeating Stanford 12-11 in an overtime thriller at UC Irvine. Junior Blake Wellen scored the game-winner with one tick left on the clock in the second overtime period. The championship was UCLA's first league title since 1975. UCLA has not been ranked lower than third in the national poll this year.
Senior Matt Armato, along with juniors Sean Kern and Adam Wright, have remained pillars of consistency for the Bruins. Kern leads all UCLA players with a career 55 points while co-captain Wright lingers close behind with 48. Armato, also a co-captain, has scored 42 points including six two-pointers, which ties Jim Toring's UCLA record, set during the 1996 season. Named the MPSF tournament MVP, Armato has broken Toring's career two-point goal record (10) with 13 since 1995. Kern and Wright were also named to the MPSF all tournament team.
After opening the season at home with a commanding 13-3 victory over UC Irvine, the Bruins traveled across town to USC where they finished third in the Southern California Tournament. Eventual champion Stanford defeated UCLA 9-7 in a semifinal game. The Bruins bounced back to take revenge upon the previously unbeaten Cardinal when both teams met again in Palo Alto, thanks to Kern's game-winner with 22 seconds left in regulation. UCLA also dropped California 11-9 to round out its Bay Area road swing, defeating these teams back-to-back on the road for the fourth time in five years.
Following an exciting 13-11 overtime victory over Long Beach State, the Bruins headed back to the Bay Area for the Northern California Tournament where they finished second after losing to USC 7-6. From there, UCLA went on to win nine straight games, including exiciting two-point victories over Stanford and cross-town rival USC at home to close out its conference schedule with an unbeaten record. The last time the Bruins went undefeated in conference action was 1995, a year in which they won the NCAA championship.
UCLA's third loss of the season came at the hands of USC in the final regular season game, as the Trojans dethroned the Bruins from their top ranking held for the previous four weeks.
Six Bruins were named to the 1999 MPSF All-Conference Team, as voted by the league's coaches. Armato and Kern were first-team honorees, while Wright made the second-team. Junior Brian Brown was selected as a third-team honoree, and Wellen joined fellow defenseman junior Andy Bailey on the honorable mention team.
BRUIN NOTABLES: Kern also earned UCLA MET-Rx Student Athlete of the Week honors Dec. 6 for a record third time after his performance in the NCAA tournament...Next year, UCLA will only lose one starter from this year's national championship squad, senior Matt Armato...The rest of the starting core, juniors Kern, Wright, Andy Bailey, Brown, Wellen, and freshman goalkeeper Brooks will return in 2000...The Bruin water polo squad has won back-to-back national titles twice ('71-'72, '95-'96) since its inception in 1969...UCLA is tied for the most men's water polo NCAA tournament appearances (23) with Stanford.