Containing the top-five women’s water polo teams in the nation, the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation features a competitiveness that would make Big East basketball and Southeastern Conference football blush.
And with a win this Saturday at Spieker Aquatics Center, the No. 2 UCLA Bruins will emerge from the MPSF season with both a No. 1 conference tournament seeding and a No. 1 national ranking.
Losing several key players to graduation at the end of last season, the relatively young Bruins were an early surprise, starting off 5-0 in conference play and handing No. 1 Stanford its only loss of the season to win the UC Irvine Invitational in February.
UCLA (18-2, 5-1 MPSF) then experienced a setback against No. 4 Cal, only to bounce back against No. 6 UC Irvine and No. 7 LMU this past weekend.
“I think this is definitely a true testimony to the heart of this team: how hard we work and how we recover,” senior attacker Hannah Sebenaler said.
“That ultimately shows the most about a team ““ how they recover from a loss.”
The Bruins found themselves behind once again after three quarters of play on Sunday but were able to buckle down in overtime against LMU to cap off an undefeated weekend.
“I don’t think we should have been in the position to come back the way we had to come back against LMU,” coach Brandon Brooks said.
“But I think that because we have a team that’s dedicated, because we have a team of girls that trust each other, we’re able to rely on each other when things get tense and when the pressure’s on.”
Stopping the Cardinal
In claiming the top spot in the MPSF Tournament bracket, and likely in hoisting the National Championship trophy come May 13, all roads lead to defending Stanford, the national champion.
The Cardinal has one of the most potent offenses in the country, only scoring fewer than 10 goals in four games this season.
On Saturday, it will be key for the Bruins to convert when handed advantage situations, whether six-on-fives or penalty shots, areas in which they struggled against LMU.
“Six-on-fives and penalty shots are definitely a determining component,” Sebenaler said. “With every game they have the ability to make you win or lose.”
Win or lose, Saturday will be the last time the UCLA’s five seniors play at Spieker.
A sense of nervous energy surrounds the team this week as it not only attempts to remain undefeated at home but also to give its veterans a chance to please their home fans once more.
“We’re playing against Stanford, so it’s going to be a tough game. I just hope the emotions don’t get too much inside the girls’ heads,” senior attacker Sarah Orozco said.
“It’s going to be special because I’ve had four awesome years here at UCLA, and I wouldn’t be able to say anything but good things about what this program has done for me.”