One goal was all that separated three of the first four clashes between the nation’s highest-ranked women’s water polo teams.
No. 3 UCLA women’s water polo played a total of four games at the Barbara Kalbus Invitational in the span of three days, winning its first two, against No. 16 UC San Diego (5-8) and No. 6 UC Irvine (9-6), respectively.
The Bruins then went 1-1 against the No. 1 USC Trojans and the No. 4 California Bears over their final two games, with both games decided by one goal. In addition, the last game of the weekend, the championship game between then-No. 1 Stanford and USC, was decided by one goal as well – in double overtime.
The results of the weekend made it clear – the nation’s four top teams are hardly separable.
“We are right there with the other teams that are ranked around where we are,” said coach Brandon Brooks.
In the match against the Trojans, the Bruins nearly pulled off a fourth-quarter comeback after they trailed for most of the fourth quarter. In the win over the Bears, the deciding goal came off a penalty shot with less than 30 seconds left.
UCLA was a goal away from potentially playing in the championship game while simultaneously a goal away from moving down in the rankings to No. 4.
Regardless of the way things panned out, Brooks said there are things that the team needs to work on.
The team allowed only 25 total goals this season before playing USC and California. Over the two game span, the Bruins allowed 21 goals.
“There’s always room for improvement,” said senior utility Mackenzie Barr. “We need to work on our defense and clean some things up as we go forward.”
But even when the defense gave up more goals than it had in any game this season in back-to-back matches, the team was able to adjust and stay competitive.
The offense, which averaged under six goals a game over five matches against the Trojans and the Bears last year, averaged over 10 against the two teams this weekend.
UCLA’s ability to not just stay in close games but also win those contests was put on full display.
“The fact that we fell back so hard in our game against Cal (and came back), it just shows that we are not going to back down or give up at any point,” said senior attacker Kelsey O’Brien. “We kept fighting, and it paid off.”