Pacific faces UC Davis in NCAA men’s water polo opening round

water polo player

Sophomore Mihailo Vukazic

The 7th-ranked Pacific men’s water polo team (21-6) will face 5th-ranked UC Davis (19-7) in the opening round of the 2022 NCAA Men’s Water Polo National Championship at Spieker Aquatics Complex in Berkeley on Dec. 1. It marks the third NCAA Tournament appearance in the last five seasons for the Tigers. 

Head Coach James Graham said the tournament location is an advantage for his team.

“Our fans are the best in the country,” he said. “When we’ve made it to the championships, we’ve turned games in the Bay Area and elsewhere into home games for us. We are excited to play in Berkeley, where we have a huge alumni base and are not far from the Valley.”

For those who cannot attend in person, "watch parties" for all of Pacific’s NCAA Tournament games will be held in The Lair, upstairs at the Donald and Karen DeRosa University Center.

Pacific earned an automatic bid into the NCAA field in the final season of the Golden Coast Conference by dominating 6th-ranked Long Beach State 12-6 in the championship contest. 

Senior Bogdan Djerkovic was named MVP of the event after scoring four goals in both the semifinals and championship contests. Next year, the West Coast Conference will sponsor men’s water polo, and the Tigers will be one of seven members. 

When asked what made a difference for this year’s team as opposed to the 2020 squad that lost the GCC final to Long Beach State, senior Djordje Stanic, one of three Tigers to earn GCC All-Tournament honors, said, “The difference is our mental strength. Also, our chemistry is on another level this year since we’ve been practicing so hard since last season.”

Pacific returns to the field for the first time since 2019 when the Tigers hosted the event at the Chris Kjeldsen Pool at the Douglass M. Eberhardt Aquatics Center. The Tigers knocked out Pepperdine in the semifinals before falling to Stanford in the championship 13-8.

Pacific has won at least one contest in each of its previous four appearances. In 2017, Pacific recorded two victories in the opening round, knocking off Pomona-Pitzer and UC Davis, before falling in the semifinals to UCLA 11-9. 

In 2013, Pacific returned to the field for the first time in 20 years and received a bye to the semifinals where the Tigers dispatched the Stanford Cardinal, 11-10, before falling to USC in the championship contest, 12-11 in double overtime. 

In 1993, Pacific made its first NCAA appearance. After a loss to UC Irvine, 12-10, in the first round, the Tigers picked up consolation wins over Navy 13-7 and Massachusetts 16-5, to finish fifth in the eight-team field. 

This is Pacific’s fourth NCAA Tournament bid under head coach James Graham. Known as “Water Polo U,” the Tigers have advanced to the championship game twice, in 2013 and 2019. Pacific is the only program other than the traditional powers (Stanford, USC, Cal and UCLA) that has played in the championship contest since 2000.

The high level of play by his team in the conference championship match has Graham optimistic for the NCAA Tournament.

“Our guys just brought it every possession of the game," Graham said. "I'm so excited for them and looking forward to representing the GCC at the NCAA championships."

NCAA tournament bracket (all times Pacific)

Opening round
Princeton (26-5) vs. Fordham (26-7), 9 a.m., Nov. 26
Pacific (21-6) vs. UC Davis (19-7), 3 p.m., Dec. 1
USC (18-6) vs. Princeton-Fordham winner, 5 p.m., Dec. 1

Cal (21-2) vs. Pacific-Davis winner, 2 p.m., Dec. 3
UCLA (22-4) vs. USC, Princeton or Fordham, 4 p.m., Dec. 3

3 p.m., Dec. 4 (televised nationally on ESPNU)