The last time the UCLA women’s water polo team visited the Aztec Aquaplex, it easily defeated a solid San Diego State team to win its first Mountain Pacific Sports Federation game of the season.
This time, the Bruins will once again be seeded as the favorite, but the field will be more talented and the stakes will be astronomically higher.
In less than two weeks, No. 3 UCLA will make the trek down the 405 Freeway in an attempt to reach water polo nirvana, otherwise known as the team’s seventh national title in the last 10 years.
The Bruins will take the next two weeks to prepare intensively for the NCAA Tournament.
It was this same drive and focus in practice that took UCLA from being 8-1 losers against No. 1 Stanford at home to being 8-7 overtime winners against the same team in Palo Alto just a week later.
Having just won the MPSF Tournament title on Sunday, the Bruins (21-3) are the tournament’s No. 2 seed.
“We can’t really rest on our laurels at all after the win,” senior utility KK Clark said.
“It’s good to know that we can play with them and be successful in a championship atmosphere, but our goal is to play in the national championship game, and that’s what we need to refocus on.”
Slowing things down
Followers of MPSF women’s water polo know that on any given day, any of the “Top Four” (No. 1 Stanford, No. 2 USC, No. 3 UCLA and No. 4 Cal) can come out victorious when matched up against one another.
The Bruins have earned a respectable 6-3 record against these opponents over the course of the season, highlighting some of their most heroic as well as some of their weakest performances.
The key to success for UCLA has been its ability to slow teams down on offense and force them to take contested perimeter shots late in the shot clock.
Favorable defensive position at the 2-meter mark as well as the stellar play of senior goalkeeper Caitlin Dement was what allowed the team to gain a last-second 4-3 victory over USC on Saturday as well as win the conference title Sunday.
Seeing as the defending national champion Stanford has only lost twice this season ““ both at the hands of UCLA ““ a fifth and final matchup between the two teams could be in the works.
Still, the team sees rigorous practice, and not fate, as an essential area of focus heading into San Diego.
“We had a great week of practice going into the conference tournament and we had high-intensity practices, and that’s what it’s going to take for the next 10 days or so in order to be prepared,” coach Brandon Brooks said.
Compiled by Andrew Erickson, Bruin Sports contributor.