The Bruins will have a chance to win their eighth program title this weekend.
No. 4 seed UCLA women’s water polo (22-7, 2-3 MPSF) earned a bye in the first round and will begin its journey in the NCAA tournament by facing Pacific (18-7, 7-0 West Coast Conference) in the quarterfinals Friday at USC’s Uytengsu Aquatic Center.
The Bruins will make their 23rd NCAA tournament appearance. The last time UCLA won a women’s water polo championship was in 2009.
The Bruins met the Tigers twice in the regular season, most recently picking up a 12-8 win that started them off on a five-game winning streak.
The first time that UCLA met Pacific, sophomore attacker Maddie Musselman ended with a hat trick accompanied by 2-goal games from both senior center Alexis Angermund and junior attacker Lizette Rozeboom. The Bruins won that match 10-4.
“Pacific is a really good team and we have to prepare for that,” said sophomore attacker Emily Skelly. “They have a history of making people play the best that they can.”
Four of Pacific’s seven loses have been to three of the top-seeded teams in the NCAA tournament: No. 2 seed Stanford, UCLA and No. 1 seed USC.
“We have to be more consistent in being the team that we want to be,” said coach Adam Wright. “When we are not consistent we struggle, so we will prepare things for every team but we want to go into this focusing on ourselves.”
UCLA has been working on its 5-on-6 and 6-on-5 this season and this week at practice, something the Bruins have hoped to bring with them to the NCAA tournament.
“It’s something that we have been working on tirelessly,” Skelly said. “We know we can still improve, but I also know that we showed a lot of growth in the MPSF tournament because we have been working constantly on the littlest details and cracking down on those plays.”
Senior attacker Nicole Reynolds said that their 5-on-6 and 6-on-5 games are not things that will be forgotten in this tournament.
“We’re really trying to do the small things right,” Reynolds said. “I think it comes down to our small details and cleaning up defensive possessions, but if we stick to our plays and our details, success will come.”
If UCLA passes Pacific in the quarterfinals, its will likely go on to play USC in the semifinals. The Trojans have swept the Bruins in the regular season, and are responsible for three of UCLA’s seven losses this season.
“It’s been hard to not think about what is ahead,” Skelly said. “We’re trying to keep everything the same and really stay present in the games we play.”