Two months ago in the Barbara Kalbus Invitational, UCLA women’s water polo suffered its first loss of the season. This weekend, the Bruins have a chance for redemption against their crosstown rival.
Newly ranked No. 1 UCLA (19-1, 5-0 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) will battle No. 2 USC (26-1, 4-1) in the Bruins’ regular season finale Saturday at Spieker Aquatics Center.
“I’m really pumped about it,” said sophomore goalkeeper Carlee Kapana. “It’s always exciting to play your rival at your home pool. We’re going to get a big crowd out here so that’ll be good too.”
USC’s 52-game win streak, an NCAA record that spanned a 26-0 national championship-winning 2016 season, was snapped against Stanford two weeks ago. Though the Trojans were able to get back in the win column against Arizona State last weekend, they currently sit in third place for the conference.
“The way I see it is (USC) is still the team to beat,” said coach Brandon Brooks. “They lost once in the last two years and we won (against Stanford) which is good for us, but we still haven’t beaten (USC).”
USC took control of the first matchup against UCLA right from the start and its lead lasted throughout most of the game.
USC took a 2-0 lead after its first two possessions and converted on four of seven power-play opportunities en route to a 10-9 win. The Trojans put up double-digit goals – something that UCLA has only allowed twice all year.
Over the course of the season, USC has gotten its scoring started from the get-go, scoring 125 goals during the first quarter and 113 during the second quarter. According to redshirt senior defender Alys Williams, a major focus for Saturday’s rematch is to rival USC’s intensity from the start.
“I think last time we came out slow both defensively and offensively,” Williams said. “We really have to focus on starting the game strong this time because that’s something we lacked last time we played them.”
Starting the game strong is exactly what UCLA did against then-No. 1 Stanford last weekend. UCLA jumped out to a 3-0 lead which became a crucial factor in the game as the Bruins got the win in a 10-9 back-and-forth battle to the finish line.
In the past, freshman attacker Maddie Musselman and redshirt senior attacker Rachel Fattal have been the ones to guard opponents’ top scorers. The two held No. 4 California driver Dora Antal and Stanford driver Maggie Steffens, both of whom are top players in the conference in goals scored and goals per game, to zero goals.
This Saturday the Bruins will go up against another top MPSF player in driver Stephania Haralabidis.
Haralabidis leads the MPSF in goals scored with 73, which is 23 goals ahead of Musselman, the next most productive scorer. Haralabidis also leads the MPSF in goals per game with 2.7.
In the first meeting against USC, Haralabidis netted two goals – one of three players to score twice in the game for the Trojans.
But a lot has happened in the two months since then. UCLA has been on a nine-game winning streak that includes wins against No. 2 Stanford, Cal and No. 4 Arizona State.
“We’ve had some good games the couple months since that game,” Brooks said. “And last weekend would make me believe that we’re a better team than we were then.”
In each, UCLA has attacked first, unlike in its first game against the Trojans, which is something the team wants to continue to do against USC this weekend.
“Last time we played them we came out slow, and they came out really ready to go,” Brooks said. “We played from way behind the whole game. I expect that it will be a tough game on both sides and I want to see us match their intensity.”