For UCLA women’s water polo, a crucial part of its game is team defense – it’s the Bruins’ bread and butter, according to coach Brandon Brooks.
Anchoring the No. 3 Bruins’ defense, which has held opponents to just three goals a game on average, is sophomore goalkeeper Carlee Kapana.
After splitting goal keeping duties with UCLA alumna Alex Musselman last year, Kapana has become the team’s main goalie. She’s the first underclassman to claim the honor since then-sophomore Caitlin Dement – who is fourth on the career saves record-board – in 2010.
“I think I’m adjusting well,” Kapana said. “The same thing happened in high school where I split time as goalie my sophomore and junior years. Then senior year I became the first-string (goalie), so I think I have a good grasp of what I need to do as the starting goalie.”
Kapana’s new role has allowed teammates to grow more confident and to play more relaxed, according to redshirt senior attacker Rachel Fattal.
“It makes us a lot more confident out in the field knowing that the goalie behind you is nails,” Fattal said. “Even if you mess up or take a riskier move, she’ll still be able to save your back. It’s a lot easier to play knowing (Kapana) is back there.”
Through the first six games of the season, Kapana has tallied 51 saves – on pace to surpass her 2016 total of 115.
Kapana continues to build more faith and confidence from Brooks and the rest of the coaching staff as well.
“(Kapana) has been and definitely will continue to be very important to our team’s success,” Brooks said. “Obviously the goalie is a very important position as they’re in a position to take goals off the scoreboard and make up for mistakes or miscommunications from other people. It’s a huge role.”
Kapana, Fattal and the rest of the Bruins (6-0) will be back in the pool Friday as they go up against the No. 14 Long Beach State 49ers.
“I think it’ll be a great game,” Brooks said. “(Long Beach State) usually has a good crowd like a Friday Night Lights kind of thing. It should be a good test for us.”
Long Beach State (1-2) is coming off of its first weekend of competition where it played No. 17 San Jose State, No. 4 California and No. 1 Stanford in Northern California. Friday’s game will be the 49ers’ first home match of the season before they head to the Triton and UC Irvine Invitationals.
For the Bruins, the game on Friday will be their first non-tournament match.
“One game a day is definitely a lot easier to prepare for,” Fattal said. “You only have one team to focus on rather than having to focus on multiple teams, and now that it’s just single competition we’re able to have a more focused game plan.”
Despite the break in action, UCLA has kept the momentum going with scrimmages in practice, according to Brooks, in preparation for Friday.
“I’m very confident in our team heading into the game,” Kapana said on Monday. “We have this whole week to think about that one game and one team versus having a week to think about four teams. I’m confident we’ll get the win.”