EAST LANSING, Mich. – On Nov. 14, 2021, the Michigan State men’s water polo team defeated the University of California-San Diego, 12-11, and claimed the school’s fourth-ever national championship. The No. 5–ranked Spartans came into the game against the No. 2–ranked Tritons after defeating the University of California by the same score in triple overtime.
It is the Spartans’ fourth national championship in school history, and first since 2008, when they defeated California Polytechnic State University. Senior Ben Daugherty and sophomore Ian Worst each netted four goals to guide the Spartans to the championship victory.
The team’s path to the championship started in late September with the Spartan Invite, held at IM West – Michigan State’s intramural facilities – in East Lansing, Michigan. The Spartans took on Michigan and defeated the Wolverines, 11-9. The next day, the Spartans battled Ohio State and defeated the Buckeyes, 10-8, to complete an undefeated run at the Spartan Invite.
In the first game of the Big Ten seeding tournament, Michigan State took care of business and finished the first seeding tournament with a victory against Purdue, and rematch victories against Ohio State and Michigan.
In the second Big Ten seeding tournament, it was more of the same for the 13-time conference champions. Victories over Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and a forfeiture from Iowa, gave the Spartans the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament.
The tournament was more of the same. A 20-4 victory over Iowa, an 11-3 victory over Ohio State, and a 7-4 championship game victory over Michigan gave the Spartans their 13th Big Ten championship. After a relatively easy run through the conference, the Spartans turned their attention to nationals.
Michigan State started the national tournament ranked as the No. 5 seed, which was based on 2019 results. The Spartans began their run to the championship against the No. 12 seed Cornell, who they beat 12-5 to move on to the Elite Eight to take on Colorado. The Spartans took a close match against the Buffaloes, 16-11, to move on to the Final Four.
It took three overtimes to decide the match, but Michigan State emerged victorious against Cal Berkeley, 12-11. The Spartans returned to the National Championship for the first time since 2008.
The championship game was an absolute thriller from the beginning, the two teams going back and forth throughout the entire game. The score was 3-3 at the end of the first quarter, and the Spartans held just a one–goal lead going into halftime at 7-6. With just 41 seconds left in the game, Worst netted the game-winning goal for the Spartans to defeat the Tritons and claim their fourth national championship, 12-11.
Head coach Matthew Latham said on Twitter after the game that he knew the team had a chance to be something special.
“Little did I realize how special they would turn out to be,” he wrote. “I think it is finally starting to sink in a little bit. These guys wanted to prove themselves all season long.”