After traveling a round-trip total of more than 4,500 miles for its past two tournaments, the UCLA women’s water polo team is finally coming home.
The No. 4 Bruins have shown they can take control on the road, winning all three of their games at the Michigan Invitational in late January and taking second place at the star-studded Stanford Invitational last weekend en route to a 6-1 overall record.
The season is still young and UCLA has already proven its ability to face adversity and win close games, gutting out a 6-5 victory against No. 10 Hawai’i (2-3) on Saturday and stealing a victory from No. 2 California (11-2) only a few hours later, with two goals in the fourth quarter, 4-3.
“I’ve liked our team chemistry and I’ve liked how hard this team works,” coach Brandon Brooks said. “I like our communication, our willingness to communicate and our will to win ““ it’s strong.”
Senior utility KK Clark continued her scoring rampage in Palo Alto, netting eight goals to bring her season total to an impressive 18.
Sophomore utility Becca Dorst had a productive weekend as well, scoring four goals, including three in a blowout win against No. 12 Michigan (4-5) on Sunday.
“In our Michigan game, it was really cool to see a number of players get in and execute and fulfill their roles in numerous ways,” Clark said. “That kind of stuff was really encouraging to see.”
On Sunday afternoon, there was no rest for the travel- and battle-weary Bruins, who faced the No. 1 Stanford Cardinal in the championship game of the Stanford Invitational and were handed their first loss of the season, 9-5.
“I don’t think any athlete can say they like losing to one of their biggest opponents,” Dorst said.
“It’s the same feeling no matter who you lose to, but you’re just inspired to fight harder.”
With the exception of a game against Stanford in which junior goalkeeper Kate Baldoni, recently voted the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Player of the Week, recorded 15 saves, UCLA frustrated teams all weekend.
The Bruins allowed only 11 total goals in their first three games of the Stanford Invitational and even blanked Michigan in the second half of Sunday’s game, allowing an inspired offense to score seven unanswered goals and leading to a 10-3 victory.
“It’s kind of hard to practice team defense in a game setting when we’re doing drills, so it was really cool to see how our team worked together on defense,” Clark said.
Upcoming practices will be crucial for UCLA, which opens up MPSF play at No. 8 San Diego State Feb. 18.
After taking its first loss of the season at the hands of Stanford (6-0), UCLA looks for another win when it faces Cal Baptist (1-4) this Saturday.
This marks the Bruins’ first home game at the Spieker Aquatics Center this season, as well as the first time they will take on an unranked opponent.