The UCLA women’s water polo team has a serious case of dÃ©jÃ 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.”