Thursday, September 21

Bruins begin battle for title

With the conference boasting the country’s top eight teams, the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation women’s water polo tournament this weekend will likely be a preview of what to expect in the NCAA Tournament.

No. 3 UCLA (20-5, 5-2 MPSF) enters the MPSF playoffs as the third seed behind No. 1 USC and No. 2 Stanford. The Bruins open postseason play today against No. 4 Hawai’i (16-7, 3-4), the host school and sixth seed in the tournament.

This will mark the fourth time this season that the two schools have faced each another. After concluding the regular season by facing the Cardinal and the Trojans and losing by just one goal in each game, the Bruins are confident to roll into the postseason.

“We feel like our schedule has us battle-tested,” senior goalkeeper Brittany Fullen said. “We’ve played the top teams in the country even, and now we’re prepared to take that next step.”

The Rainbow Wahine ended the Bruins’ 46-game winning streak earlier in the season at a neutral site. While UCLA went on to win the ensuing two matchups, one of those games was at home and the other was at Irvine. This time around, Hawai’i will essentially have a home game and will look to come out with added intensity.

“Hawai’i is going to throw everything they have at us,” UCLA coach Adam Krikorian said. “They’ll be playing at home, and their backs are against the wall somewhat if they want to play beyond this tournament. We’re going to have to be ready.”

In winning the previous four national championships, the Bruins have won the MPSF Tournament en route three of the four years. Although they have finished fourth in the nation for the fifth consecutive year, Hawai’i has failed to make it into the NCAA Tournament each of the last two seasons.

The Bruins are aware that the road to a third consecutive MPSF Title will not be an easy one. Should they defeat Hawai’i, they will presumably face Stanford in a semifinal game. To win the championship on Sunday, UCLA would likely have to go through top-seeded USC, a team that defeated UCLA 11-10 in the final game of the regular season. That loss came a week after UCLA came up short in an 8-7 loss to Stanford. Despite the back-to-back setbacks to conclude the regular season, Krikorian praised his team’s efforts.

“With the way we’ve been playing, we definitely have a lot of confidence,” he said. “It seems a little strange to say coming off a couple of losses, but I think we’re playing the best we’ve played all year. We’re peaking at the right time.”

After nearly four months of action, the team is ready to begin its run to a fifth consecutive national title.

“We understand the importance of the regular season,” Fullen said. “But the postseason is when the intensity really ratchets up. We’re looking forward to keeping up our good play, and we’re so excited to see what we can do.”

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