Dec. 5, 2004
Stanford, Ca. - In what was quite possibly the most emotional, highly dramatic, tense, nerve-wracking championship game in the long history of the NCAA Men's Water Polo Championship, the UCLA Bruins and the Stanford Cardinal battled to the very end with the Bruins scoring a 10-9 overtime victory to capture the national title before an Avery Aquatic Center overflow crowd of 3,044 fans on Sunday.
Both teams battled to near exhaustion, but UCLA's Logan Powell proved to be the hero of the game when he scored on a rebound shot with 13 seconds left in the second overtime. Powell had played very little during the regulation portion of the game, but three UCLA players were ejected because of three fouls each. Bruins head coach Adam Krikorian had enough depth to insert Powell.
"It was a rebound off Josh Hewko's shot," said Powell, "and it landed in my hand and I knew I could put it away. We had three players ejected and I was the next guy in line to play. I was in the right place at the right time."
Stanford had one last scoring opportunity with five seconds remaining but Tony Azevedo's shot was blocked by UCLA goalkeeper Joe Axelrad.
"UCLA is a tough team and they played with a lot of heart," said Azevedo. "And so did we, and that is why it came down to overtime. Joe Axelrad (UCLA goalkeeper) is a good goalie, and he had a great game. A lot of my shots were not going where I wanted them to go."
UCLA often rotated three players to stop Azevedo, the two-time U.S. Olympian, who ended the 2004 season with 80 goals and a school record 332 career goals.
"Congratulations to UCLA," said Stanford head coach John Vargas. "UCLA did a very nice job. Clearly UCLA's focus was to stop Tony. Where we tried to post up, there were two or three players on him. UCLA is talented. They threw a lot of guys at us. We tried to control the tempo of the game, and take away their counterattack.
Stanford jumped to a 3-1 lead in the first period on goals by Greg Crum
, Sam Tyre
and Thomas Hopkins
. However, the Bruins scored second period goals by Albert Garcia and Peter Belden to tie the game at 3-3. Varellas put the Cardinal back in front at 4-3 on a goal at 4:17 of the second period, but the Bruins battled back to score goals by Grant Zider and Powell to take a 5-4 halftime lead.
UCLA upped the lead to 6-4 on a third period goal at 4:28 by Josh Hewko. Down 7-5 with time running out in the game, Stanford scored two last minute goals. With 51 seconds to play in regulation, Peter Varellas shot the ball past the UCLA goalkeeper (Joe Axelrad) thanks to an assist by Azevedo. That cut the lead to one goal, 7-6, and set the stage for another dramatic Stanford comeback. With 21 seconds left on the clock, Azevedo, who had been held scoreless, notched the tying goal thanks to an assist from Mark Moser on an exclusion play.
A goal by Thomas Hopkins put the Cardinal in front, 8-7 at 1:56 of the first overtime period. That was Stanford's first lead since a 4-3 advantage with 4:17 in the second period. However, UCLA tied the game at 8-8 on a goal by Brett Ormsby, who was a teammate of Azevedo on the 2004 U.S. Olympic team.
In the second overtime, Varellas put the Cardinal in front on another extra man goal at 1:54 to make it 9-8. But the Bruins fought back to tie the game on an exclusion goal by Ted Peck at 1:18.
Powell's goal with 13 seconds left in the second overtime sealed the victory for the Bruins, who walked away with the school's eighth NCAA title in school history.
"It is one of the best feelings in the world (to win an NCAA title)," said UCLA head coach Adam Krikorian. "I'm so happy for these seniors. They are an unbelievable group of young men. They work so hard and it is about them. I wanted to win for them. That was one of the most courageous efforts I have ever coached, and maybe even seen as a sports fan. Our guys are in incredible physical condition. I worked them extremely hard for two years. It is a testament to their courage today. Joe (Axelrad) is one of the best guys I have ever known. It couldn't have happened to a better guy. He loves that challenge."
Axelrad, a senior, finished with eight saves.
"Part of UCLA water polo is placing a huge premium on defense," said Axelrad. "Stanford played fantastic offense, but our defense was up to the challenge. I can't give enough credit to our guys. We played great defense. Tony (Azevedo) is easily the best player I have had the privilege to play against. The overtime rattled our nerves, but we were able to calm down. We knew that in overtime we were in better shape than our opponent. We couldn't be happier on the way we won. Anytime you beat Stanford you have to be happy. When we lost last weekend to Stanford (MPSF Tournament), it left an incredibly bitter taste in our mouths."
UCLA ended the season 25-3. Stanford ended the 2004 campaign with a 23-5 mark.
"We've been preparing for this game all season," said Thomas Hopkins, "but it didn't come out like we wanted too. It was a pretty emotional game. We're going to get ready for next season. We'll try to make another run for it and hopefully we will win it."
Vargas echoed Hopkins' comments. "I was proud of our guys and how they played all season. They played with a lot of heart. Our seniors have had an unbelieveable career at Stanford, and I'm proud to be a part of their careers."
Azevedo says he is graduating in a few weeks, and hopes to play professional water polo in Italy.
UCLA 2 3 1 1 1-2 = 10
Stanford 3 1 1 2 1-1 = 9
UCLA Scorers: Garcia 2, Ormsby 2, Powell 2, Belden 1, Hewko 1, Zider 1, Peck 1
Stanford Scorers: Varellas 3, Hopkins 2, Crum 2, Azevedo 1, Tyre 1,
Goalie Saves: Axelrad (UCLA) 8; Taylor (S) 6
In the third place game at the NCAA Championship, fourth-seeded Loyola Marymount edged third-seeded Princeton, 6-5.
Endre Rex-Kiss scored three goals to lead the LMU attack while Ian Elliott collected 12 saves in goal.
"Ian played an incredibly strong game," said LMU head coach John Loughran. "We stopped their 6-on-5 attack and that was the key to the game, our defense."
Rex-Kiss, who was named to the NCAA All-Tournament First Team, scored what proved to be the winning goal with 4:12 in the fourth period to make it 6-4. Princeton's Zach Beckmann cut the margin to one goal, 6-5, at 2:02 but the Tigers could get no further.
"Endre Rex-Kiss had a great game," said Loughran. "Pat Reilly had many nice passes. I think that Brian McShane at setting two meters did an excellent job. It was nice to see that our tempo and our aggressiveness set the tone for the game and helped us push ahead for the win."
Loyola Marymount ended the season with a 21-10 record.
Princeton also nearly scored a major upset the day before with a 7-5 overtime loss to NCAA champion UCLA.
"We just didn't execute well today," said Princeton head coach Luis Nicolao. "I don't know if it was nerves or what, but we looked a little tight out there, especially on offense. We were 1-for-11 in man up situations. There's no way we could get it done like that."
Michael Murray gave Princeton the early lead at 1-0, but two goals by Brian McShane and Rex-Kiss gave the Lions a 2-1 lead after one period.
Midway through the third period, Cutberto Hernandez and Rex-Kiss gave Loyola Marymount a 5-3 lead.
Princeton ended the season 25-6.
"This whole year has been a great ride," said Nicolao. "It's obviously not the way we wanted to end the season, but we played hard. I couldn't be prouder of our guys, They played great and have a lot to be proud of. We'll have to come back next year."
Loyola Marymount 2 1 2 1 = 6
Princeton 1 1 2 1 = 5
LMU Scorers: Rex-Kiss 3, Hernandez 1, Reilly 1, McShane 1
Princeton Scorers: Murray 2, Seaver 1, Stover 1, Beckmann 1
Goalie Saves: Elliott (LMU) 12; Sabbatini (P) 8
2004 NCAA All-Tournament First Team
Tony Azevedo, Stanford
Greg Crum, Stanford
Thomas Hopkins, Stanford
Peter Varellas, Stanford
Joe Axelrad, UCLA
Albert Garcia, UCLA
Brett Ormsby, UCLA - MVP
Endre Rex-Kiss, Loyola Marymount
2004 NCAA All-Tournament Second Team
Josh Hewko, UCLA
Michael March, UCLA
Brian McShane, Loyola Marymount
Jamal Motlagh, Princeton
Ted Peck, UCLA
Peter Sabbatini, Princeton
John Stover, Princeton