Women’s water polo

San Jose State
Saturday, noon
San Jose
No TV

The UCLA women’s water polo team has a serious case of déjà vu.

Despite a talented roster that includes all of last season’s starters, the Bruins still find themselves in the same position they were in last year: recovering from a streak of unexpected losses and gearing up for an underdog run at a conference title.

The No. 4 Bruins managed such a comeback feat last year, when No. 5-seeded UCLA defeated the No. 2-seeded USC to win the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament. For this year’s squad, the road to a similar comeback begins with this weekend’s matchup against No. 8 San Jose State.

While history favors the Bruins ““ UCLA boasts a 28-0 record all-time against San Jose State ““ the Spartans come into the weekend with the momentum of a nine-game winning streak. Having suffered a recent 5-2 loss to the No. 1 Stanford Cardinal, the Bruins will enter the match seeking redemption.

“Obviously we’ve had a few struggles in the last couple of weekends, but now we’re just focusing on the fact that we’re a different team from the past,” junior goalie Caitlin Dement said. “We’re working on pulling everything together and becoming the team we can be.”

Dement and freshman goalie Sami Hill have been crucial elements of the Bruins’ strong defensive play and will be vital in holding off a powerful Spartan offense led by senior utility player Adriana Vogt.

If the Bruins want to stay competitive in the talented MPSF conference, they will also need to fine-tune their techniques on the other side of the pool.

“We’ve been emphasizing 6-on-5s in practice ““ that’s a really key thing we need to work on,” said senior center Grace Reynolds, a leading scorer. “We just need to be able to put the ball away.”

A key element of the 6-on-5 power play the Bruins are aiming to run will be the ability to play as a group, a skill that should come naturally to a mature team that has played together for several years.

“We have almost the same team we had last year, and we’ve really grown together,” Reynolds said.

With a matchup against the No. 3 Women of Troy on April 9 and the MPSF Tournament less than a month away, the Bruins must find a way to convert the experience on their talented roster into game-time success. But for coach Brandon Brooks, this success should be a natural result of the increased practice time the Bruins will enjoy as the regular season winds down.

“It’s all going to come together,” Brooks said. “We’ve had some missed opportunities, but we’re doing things the right way. Our hard work is going to pay off.”