A close loss derailed the Bruins’ perfect conference record – but the team bounced back.
No. 3 UCLA women’s water polo (21-4, 4-1 MPSF) split two weekend games, falling 7-6 to No. 1 Stanford (16-1, 4-0) on Saturday before winning 13-3 at No. 18 San Jose State (9-12, 1-3) on Sunday.
The Bruins took the lead over the Cardinal with about a minute remaining after junior attacker Maddie Musselman scored. However, Stanford’s two late goals ended the UCLA’s chance to upset its rival.
UCLA kept it much closer against Stanford on Saturday compared to its matchup earlier this season on Feb. 23. The Bruins lost by six goals then, but had the chance to win late in the game this time around.
“Over the last five weeks, it’s been the most consistent training that we’ve had since I’ve been a part of the program,” said coach Adam Wright. “That usually translates to something good. Their hard work is starting to pay off, but we have to keep this going.”
The Bruins started out slowly in Saturday’s game, failing to score in the first half. They picked it up in the third quarter, scoring twice to make the score 4-2 before the final frame.
Senior goalie Carlee Kapana had 12 saves against the Cardinal, tying her season high. Musselman scored twice, but the All-American could not extend the Bruins’ winning streak.
Junior attacker Bronte Halligan said having five different scorers against the Cardinal forced their opponents not to focus on one person, allowing for more open shots.
“We worked a lot on different players stepping up,” Halligan said. “It showed as we had lots of players score (against Stanford). We’re no longer relying on one or two people, but we’re relying on the team as a unit. It makes for a big difference.”
The Bruins scored one against the Spartans in the opening period before adding five in the second to lead 6-2 at halftime. Five different Bruins scored in that time frame, led by two from Halligan.
Halligan, Musselman and senior center Sarah Sheldon each scored twice in the second half to put the Spartans away. Sophomore goalie Jahmea Bent relieved Kapana in the second half, making seven saves while allowing just one goal.
“Confidence is key for us,” Kapana said. “Keeping our confidence high, but not too high, is what we need. I think staying consistent throughout each game and approaching each game with the same mindset (is important).”
With just one MPSF game remaining, the Bruins will have the opportunity to clinch the No. 2 seed in the tournament with a win against No. 2 USC (21-1, 3-1).
Wright said although the Bruins have made major improvements over the last month, the team still had lapses in its second game of the weekend.
“Overall, the effort (against the Spartans) wasn’t where we needed it to be,” Wright said. “We got the result, but we have a long way to go. If we grow the right way, (the end of the season) is when that peak should happen.”