Pacific men’s water polo wins conference title, earns fifth NCAA tournament bid

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Sophomore Reuel D’Souza had a career-best five goals in Saturday's semifinals. 

The Pacific men’s water polo team dominated Long Beach State 12-6 Sunday to earn the Golden Coast Conference title and an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. The championship win came after a 13-10 win over UC Irvine Saturday in the semifinals. 

Pacific will face University of California, Davis, in the NCAA Tournament opening round at 3 p.m. on Dec. 1 at the Spieker Aquatics Complex in Berkeley.

“This was such a huge game,” Pacific Coach James Graham said. “We talked about bringing the energy, the passion, making sure we were on game plan, sticking together and playing with composure. They did every single one of these things perfectly today, and that's why we had the result we did.”

This is Pacific’s fifth NCAA Tournament bid and the fourth under Graham. Known as “Water Polo U,” the Tigers have now earned three NCAA bids in the last five seasons (2017, 2019, 2022) in which they participated. Pacific did not compete in the rescheduled 2020 COVID-19 season. 

“We get a chance to compete now for the NCAA championship, and that's what we've been working for,” said senior Bogdan Djerkovic, who was named MVP following the Sunday win. “The season is not done. The job is not done. We are ready to go.”

The Tigers have advanced to the NCAA championship game twice (2013, 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. Pacific has picked up at least one win in each NCAA appearance, compiling a 6-4 mark in those four appearances.

Pacific (21-6) never trailed in Sunday’s championship contest, scoring the only two goals in a defensive first quarter for an early 2-0 lead. The Tigers pushed out to a 5-1 edge in the second quarter before Long Beach cut the advantage to 5-3 at the half. In the second half, Long Beach cut the Tiger lead to two on three occasions but could get no closer.  

“I'm really proud to receive the MVP, but this is a team effort,” said Djerkovic, who scored eight goals in the two tournament games. “This is something we've been working on together for a year now. This started last year, every day putting in the work, working together, making sure we do what needs to be done.”

The Tigers entered the Golden Coast Conference tournament as regular season co-champions with a 4-1 Golden Coast Conference record and had earned the No. 1 seed. Pacific knocked off UC Irvine, 13-10, in a semifinal contest Saturday behind a career-best five goals from sophomore Reuel D’Souza and four from Djerkovic. 

This was the final Golden Coast Conference men’s water polo championship, as next season the West Coast Conference and Big West Conference will add the sport. Pacific will move to the West Coast Conference.

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