In six seasons as UCLA’s women’s water polo coach, Brandon Brooks has led the Bruins to three Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament titles.
This upcoming weekend, Brooks aims to make it his fourth.
“We go out there and try to play as well as we can and if that results in a conference championship, then great,” Brooks said. “That’s a sign that we are playing good water polo at the right time of the year.”
A culmination of 152 wins to 34 losses over the span of seven years has made Brooks and the Bruins become one of the top competitors within their conference. UCLA has advanced to the MPSF tournament championship game for the past five years.
Now, UCLA (22-3, 5-1 MPSF) will enter into the conference quarterfinal as the No. 2 seed thanks to last Saturday’s 9-8 sudden-death overtime victory against No. 3 Stanford. The Bruins will face the seventh-seed CSU Bakersfield Roadrunners in their home pool, the Hillman Aquatic Center, on Friday morning. The result of that game will determine the semifinal matchup with either Stanford or San Jose State.
“I think that coming off of last weekend’s game there’s definitely some things that Stanford took advantage of,” Brooks said. “Stanford scored three counter goals and had another two or three opportunities – we should not give that up.”
There’s a high likelihood that the Bruins will be facing the Stanford Cardinal or the undefeated USC Trojans in either the semifinal or final. Those top three teams consistently prove to be each other’s toughest competition, vying for the top seed in both the MPSF tournament and upcoming NCAAs.
“All the teams are competitive with each other,” said junior utility Mackenzie Barr. “I don’t think there’s really one clear standout team. I think we all have a chance to do big things.”
The Trojans are the biggest threat to the Bruins this season and the one team that they can attribute all their losses to. USC earned the No. 1 seed into the MPSF tournament, securing a semifinal position.
“Conference tournament, for our conference especially, is interesting because teams are trying to win games. Some teams like ‘SC, they are going to be the one seed in NCAA no matter what,” Brooks said. “So they don’t necessarily have the incentive to win everything except for them wanting to stay undefeated.”
Though the NCAAs are the ultimate goal for any team, the Bruins’ focus is on the conference tournament this weekend. With postseason starting, it’s only a matter of improving the last minute details.
“Earlier in the season we needed to improve our enthusiasm and we have definitely gotten better on that,” said freshmen goalkeeper Carlee Kapana. “Playing as a team on defense and team defense altogether is something to improve on.”
The most recent MPSF championship title was in last year’s 2015 season where UCLA defeated Cal 9-8. The championship title last season gave the Bruins the third conference championship title since 2010.
“This year especially, we don’t have as much experience with our players in MSPF, but we have had the chance this season to be in really close games,” Barr said. “We definitely have experience in close games so I think that will help us for the tournaments.”
UCLA is carrying the momentum into the postseason after coming off of its first overtime and sudden-death victory last Saturday. The game proved to be a crucial steppingstone that could not have come at a better time in the season.