The Bruins will head back to Berkeley this weekend as the reigning Mountain Pacific Sports Federation champions.
No. 4 seed UCLA women’s water polo will face No. 5 seed Arizona State on Friday in the conference tournament opener, coming off an 11-5 loss against top-seeded USC last weekend.
However, sophomore attacker Maddie Musselman said the team is working on cleaning up mistakes and improving communication heading into the postseason.
“We’ve been practicing hard and smart,” Musselman said. “Leading up to this tournament, it’s easy to think about the future, (but) I think focusing on each day as it is and really connecting with my teammates has been really important.”
This will be the third meeting between the two teams this season. Junior attacker Lizette Rozeboom scored a goal with 10 seconds left to lift the Bruins to a 7-6 victory back in mid-February.
“No added pressure going into the tournament,” said coach Adam Wright. “The only thing we can be worried about is ourselves and hopefully the investment we put in, we will see on Friday.”
Wright also said Arizona State has the best keeper in the nation, but junior goalie Carlee Kapana said she hopes to improve her anticipation and speed in the cage. Sun Devils’ goalie Mia Rycraw is averaging 9.85 saves, while allowing just 5.8 goals this season.
“I’ve been working on being quicker,” said Kapana. “Getting out of the water quicker with quick shots.”
UCLA also defeated Arizona State 6-3 with a four-goal second quarter at the end of March.
“ASU likes to take a lot of unpredictable shots so we’ve been working on that,” Kapana said.
The Bruins have been continuing to work on their 5-on-6 game and 6-on-5 game, something they have struggled with throughout the season.
However, Wright said only time will tell if the team has been successful.
“The reality is that we have put a lot of time into working on this,” Wright said. “Now it’s time to be able to do this during the game. We’ve shown times where we have succeeded and times where we have not, so we will see Friday.”
When getting into man-down situations, Kapana said her team depends on her role as a goalie in order to execute 5-on-6 plays that they have practiced.
“Our 5-on-6 hasn’t been the best overall,” Kapana said. “We played our best 5-on-6 in our Stanford game so (we’re) trying to match that intensity.”
Musselman has been the team’s top scorer this past season with 46 goals. However, she said that has not changed the way she has been playing her game and playing alongside her fellow teammates.
“When it’s your moment to score, I think it’s your role to step up and shoot,” Musselman said. “Every single person has had their moment to shoot and with the style we play, everyone will get a chance.”