The clock struck midnight on the Iona women’s water polo team before it could even try on the glass slipper.
After winning the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference crown and traveling to San Diego with the hopes of taking down some of the nation’s best teams at the NCAA Championships, the Gaels found themselves overmatched against the No. 2 seeded Bruins on Friday afternoon.
The Bruins applied unrelenting pressure on defense and fluid offensive ball movement and were able to coast to a dominating 14-3 victory.
“I thought our awareness was excellent,” coach Brandon Brooks said. “That makes all the difference. If your eyes are open, then obviously you can see the whole pool.”
“In the beginning of the first game of NCAA’s, you get excited “¦ but I think we did a really good job.”
UCLA charged to a 9-2 halftime lead and never looked back, allowing many of the team’s bench players an opportunity to play. Freshman goalkeeper Sarah Wilkey contributed to the team’s outstanding defensive performance with 11 saves off the bench.
“Having everyone on the bench play was just such a reward,” senior utility KK Clark said. “It’s always a goal for the starters to take care of business and give other players an opportunity because we all practice together and we’re all on the same team.”
The Bruins dictated the flow of the game from the opening sprint thanks to their focus and execution in both man-up and man-down situations.
Iona was scoreless in seven advantage opportunities, while UCLA connected for goals on four of six power plays. The team attributes its success to constant repetition.
“At practice, (6-on-5) is mostly what we’ve been doing,” senior attacker Sarah Orozco said. “Running them with defense, without defense, in our heads, in our sleep ““ we’ve got to get them down because that’s the game.”
UCLA will face off against No. 3 seed USC Saturday evening in the second of two national semifinal games at San Diego State’s Aztec Aquaplex.
The Bruins have squared off against their crosstown rivals three times this season, winning by close margins in each contest.
“They’re going to be fired up and so are we,” Orozco said of the Trojans. “We don’t want to let up at all and they don’t either. It’s going to be a classic rivalry game and the emotions are going to be high.”
Over the next couple of days, it will be important for the Bruins to play loose and rely on their fundamentals on offense in order to maintain consistent production.
“Water polo is the same game it has been forever,” Brooks said. “It’s just the stakes are a little higher.”