One of the two most important collegiate water polo tournaments of the year – the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championship – has come and gone, but the NCAA championship is just around the corner.
For each, the No. 1 UCLA women’s water polo team (22-1, 6-0 MPSF) secured the one seed.
Though there is little relation between the one seed in the MPSF tournament and a conference title, that’s not been the case between the NCAA Tournament and a national title.
From 2009-2016, the one seed in the MPSF championship tournament has only won the conference two times, but in the NCAA Tournament, the one seed has not only made the championship game each year, it has won the national championship five times.
“It can only help us. Not having to meet two of the top teams until the finals is good, obviously,” said redshirt senior defender Alys Williams. “But we just have to focus on beating every opponent no matter who we see.”
Should California (15-9, 2-4 MPSF) beat UC Irvine in its first-round matchup and should UCLA get past the winner of the first play-in game, the Bruins’ next game will be against the Bears.
It would be a rematch of the second MPSF championship tournament semifinal, where UCLA won by only one goal.
“We need to win every game,” said redshirt senior attacker Rachel Fattal. “One seed, three seed, two seed, it puts us in a very good spot, but if we do our job – and we need to be doing our job – it doesn’t matter what seed we are going in.”
After all, UCLA’s been in this position before.
UCLA was the last team to have the one seed for the NCAA Tournament and lose. That was two years ago, when it lost to No. 2 Stanford, which scored the final minute to make the score 7-6.
2015 was also the last year UCLA had attackers Fattal and Kodi Hill and defender Williams before they redshirted for the 2016 season to train with the senior national team for the Olympics.
Without them, UCLA lost to Stanford and USC, the top two teams, five out of six times in 2016.
“Something that’s so hard with a collegiate team is getting them … to really embrace and believe in the process,” said coach Brandon Brooks. “That experience … just leads to their maturity and their understanding, and teaching the rest of the girls how important all these details are.”
In the two times since then that the Bruins have played the Cardinal, UCLA won first by one goal, and then by three.
In the second game, it held Stanford scoreless for the second half, and only allowed three goals overall, the lowest offensive total for the Cardinal since they played No. 1 USC in April 2016.
“I think being able to beat them twice is really important for us to be able to draw on in the future,” Williams said. “Come NCAAs, if we’re in a close game or a tight situation or maybe we’re even down in a game, it’s important that we have these experiences and these wins to draw back on and to learn from moving forward.”