As the No. 4-seeded UCLA women’s water polo team prepares to face No. 5-seeded USC in the first round of this weekend’s Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament, comparisons with last year’s championship game ““ in which the Bruins edged out their crosstown rival Women of Troy to win the conference title ““ are unavoidable.
In their opening game of the postseason on Friday, the Bruins will send out the same starters they did in last season’s matchup, and the stakes are just as high.
Instead of competing for the title, however, the Bruins and Women of Troy are fighting for their seasons.
A season full of upsets and surprises has the former finalists stuck in a three-way tie for third place in the conference.
This low seeding means that the loser of Friday’s game is almost certain to miss out on a bid to the NCAAs, which is guaranteed to the conference champion and is historically offered to the top three runners-up as well.
UCLA enters the tournament with the momentum of a four-game win streak that includes a 7-5 upset over USC on April 9. This confidence should prove invaluable as the Bruins, who have struggled to perform under pressure throughout the season, face both the intensity of a fierce rivalry and that of a game which will likely mark the end of the season for one of the teams.
Key elements of the Bruin offense will be senior attacker Priscilla Orozco and junior utility player KK Clark, who are both ranked among the MPSF’s top 12 goal scorers.
Senior center Grace Reynolds, who has scored 13 of the Bruins’ 37 goals in the last four games, is also likely to be a reliable source of goals for UCLA, while junior goalkeeper Caitlin Dement, who was a vital part of last season’s championship run, will provide experience on the other side of the pool.
Should UCLA win Friday’s matchup, they are likely to face top-seeded Stanford in Saturday’s semifinal round. The Cardinal is a rather unfamiliar opponent who the Bruins have faced only once this season, but its 23-0 record and 5-2 victory over UCLA last month suggest that the Bruins will need all the skills and composure they possess if they hope to repeat last year’s underdog run to victory.
Compiled by Liz Schneider, Bruin Sports contributor.