The buzzword of the weekend for the women’s water polo team is confidence.
It’s what coach Brandon Brooks says the Bruins need in order to win, and it’s what they’ve lacked all season. But as a jubilant 8-clap broke out after the Bruins’ second blowout victory of the weekend, it was clear: They’ve finally found it.
“It’s great to see us playing with confidence, and this is the right time of year to do it,” Brooks said. “We went through some struggles, mid-season, we worked on some things, and I think we’re playing well right now.”
No. 3 UCLA (22-5, 4-3 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) ended its roller-coaster season on a high note with Saturday’s 9-3 victory against No. 9 San Diego State (19-12, 1-6). Combined with Thursday’s victory against No. 8 Loyola Marymount (23-8, 11-0 Western Water Polo Association) and an upset against No. 4 USC earlier last week, the victory revealed a talented Bruin team which is finally playing to its potential.
“Before those three games, we were kind of shaky ““ we didn’t know how we were going to finish out the season,” senior attacker Priscilla Orozco said. “We came out with good wins, and it’s given us a lot of confidence.”
This self-assurance was apparent from the opening goal, a textbook backhand shot by senior center Grace Reynolds that put the Bruins in control early on. Their composure never wavered, and when the Bruins entered the second half with a seven-point lead, it began to seem almost like practice.
For the team’s seniors, who were honored in a ceremony before Saturday’s final home game of the season, it was a lighthearted ending to a four-year saga that brought them two national championships and one heartbreaking defeat.
“It was pretty emotional for all of us because we’ve been together for four years and gone through so much,” senior center Katie Estrada said. “This is the group that was meant to be here, and it feels good that we’ve made it almost to the end.”
This team cohesion was obvious from the Bruins’ fluid offense, which had shots coming from the center and from all around the perimeter with a seemingly effortless precision. Junior utility player KK Clark led the way on Saturday with a hat trick, and Reynolds secured two goals, bringing their goal totals for the weekend to a lofty six apiece.
Such strong performances are nearly expected from the pair, but goals from several younger players ““ sophomore attacker Brooke Martin and sophomore utility player Emily Greenwood both nabbed two in the weekend’s games ““ bode well for a team that will need all of the depth it can muster in the upcoming MPSF championships.
The conference features the nation’s top five teams, and the Bruins must come out on top in order to gain an automatic bid to NCAAs.
“We’ve got only huge games for the rest of the season,” Brooks said. “It’s important that we don’t lose focus ““ we’re fighting for our season in every game from here on out.”