Round one went to UCLA. Round two hits Westwood this weekend.
This Saturday, No. 3 UCLA women’s water polo (13-1, 2-0 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) will look to get its second win against No. 4 California (13-3, 1-0) this season while continuing to stay perfect in MPSF play.
Ever since the first week of competition, Cal has been slotted as the No. 4 team in the country in the NCAA poll behind UCLA.
In the 16 games it has played, Cal has averaged 12.8 goals per game.
“They are a very dangerous team with talented shooters,” said coach Brandon Brooks.
The leading scorer for the Bears is driver Dora Antal, who has found the net 38 times and is averaging 2.53 goals per game this season. She’s second and third in conference for both stats, respectively.
“She’s a really good shooter and a world class player,” Brooks said. “I think we have people that can do a good job (defending) her. We were late at recognizing where she was last time and that results in goals.”
Freshman utility Bronte Halligan personally knows Antal from previous competition between national teams and knows what it takes to slow her down.
“She’s a really interesting player,” Halligan said. “Knowing her and how she plays, she goes really quiet when you be really physical and not drop off on her, so we’ll match one of our best players who’s in the water on her and go from there.”
Sophomore goalie Carlee Kapana has also been watching tapes and focusing on Antal’s playing style.
“We’re going to try and shut her down early,” Kapana said. “Maybe looking to get a couple kickouts on her and putting her out of her game early. I’ve been studying video and the write-ups so I know where she likes to shoot.”
In the first game between the Bears and the Bruins, Antal netted a team-high three goals. UCLA eventually won the back-and-forth contest 12-11 for third place at the Barbara Kalbus Invitational, the deciding goal coming from redshirt senior attacker Rachel Fattal with 17 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Despite the win, Cal drew eight exclusions and was able to convert on five of its one-player advantages, which did not go unnoticed by Brooks.
“The game plan is to play smarter defense and smarter five man than we did the last time we played them,” Brooks said. “We have to be able to match their energy.”
Right out of the gate, the Bears drew an exclusion on their first possession of the game and scored first. Their energy stunned the Bruins in the beginning and shook Kapana’s confidence, she said.
According to Halligan, the team feeds off of Kapana’s confidence, and matching Cal’s energy is something UCLA is focusing on for Saturday.
“That’s something we’ve been working on is coming into games and getting together better in tough games,” Halligan said. “We are so good in games where we’re winning by 10 goals, but when it’s tight, we’re really internal and look individually to certain players.”
The theme in practice this week has been enthusiasm, Kapana and Halligan said, which is what was missing from the first game against Cal. Brooks wants the team to bring that Saturday.
“It’s going to be a real fun game,” Halligan said. “It’s really our first big game at home this season.”