Although their season ended with a defeat, the Bruins’ improvements from last year may give the team hope for the next few seasons.
UCLA women’s water polo (24-7, 4-2 MPSF) ended its season with its second consecutive semifinal loss at the NCAA championship as it bowed out to Stanford by an 8-7 defeat.
UCLA failed to beat rivals Stanford and USC for the second straight season under coach Adam Wright. However, three of the Bruins’ six losses to those teams this year came by just one goal – whereas the closest they got in 2018 to either the Cardinal or the Trojans was two goals down.
Wright said the Bruins’ mentality has grown during his tenure as head coach, and this season he saw improvement, even if the end result was the same.
“From day one, I asked them to understand that no one person is more important than the next,” Wright said. “There’s no hierarchy. That first-year team was great, but the evolution that happened this season was really, really incredible.”
Junior attacker Maddie Musselman led the Bruins with 61 goals, eight more than she totaled across the 2018 season, and was named a member of the All-MPSF First Team. She was followed by freshman attacker Val Ayala with 35 goals and junior attacker Bronte Halligan with 34 goals.
Senior goalie Carlee Kapana finished the season with 234 saves in 27 starts, 41 more saves than her previous season-high. She was named an All-MPSF Honorable Mention, the third straight time she was named to an All-MPSF team.
Senior defender Rachel Whitelegge said the team is in good hands with next year’s returners carrying on Wright’s vision for the program.
“I have a feeling the group’s moving in the right direction,” Whitelegge said. “They’re going to keep pressing forward, and they’re only going to get better from here.”
The Bruins will see nine seniors graduate this year. Attacker Lizette Rozeboom led all seniors with 25 goals in her final season. Whitelegge, center Sarah Sheldon, redshirt attacker Grace Reego and defender Kelsey Blacker all finished with at least ten goals in their final season in Westwood.
Wright said the seniors helped the team transition through the coaching change and have left a big impact on UCLA water polo for future teams.
“This group will serve so huge through the future of UCLA water polo,” Wright said. “That’s why you begin to see trust. For our program moving forward, this senior class has completely changed our culture.”
Although the Bruins did not win their first title since 2009, the season saw improvements that Wright can carry over in his third season. UCLA only gave up double-digit goals in three games, none of which came after Feb. 23.
The Bruins also scored double-digit goals in 18 games this year compared to 14 in 2018 in the same amount of games. UCLA also took two out of three games against rival California after only winning one of three against the Golden Bears the season before.
Reego said the difference in the program from her freshman to her senior year is huge and she is confident in the Bruins’ ability to win the title soon.
“I can walk away being part of a group that was completely special,” Reego said. “Sure, the outcome looks similar, but the feeling that I walk away with is very different. I’m very proud of where the program has gone and where it’s going to continue to go.”