SAN DIEGO “”mdash; UCLA came here riding a wave of momentum.
Entering the Tournament, the Bruins had the much-coveted title of Mountain Pacific Sports Federation champions. An up-and-down season defined by inconsistency was all but forgotten after they showed they could hang with the nation’s top teams.
But all of that changed Friday, as UCLA reverted back to the ways of old and saw their once-hopeful postseason ““ and run of five straight NCAA championships ““ come to a sudden halt.
No. 6 seed Loyola Marymount, the automatic qualifier from the Western Water Polo Association, upset No. 3 seeded UCLA 5-4 in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Women’s Water Polo Championship.
The Lions were led by the stellar play of goalkeeper Kristine Cato, who smothered several easy opportunities for the Bruins on her way to 11 saves.
Chances came early and often for the Bruins, but it was a 22-minute scoreless drought full of weak and off-target shots that spelled UCLA’s doom.
“I don’t think we executed well,” first-year coach Brandon Brooks said. “I think at times we showed a lot of mistakes characteristic of youth and I think we looked a little nervous.”
UCLA opened the scoring with a goal from center Grace Reynolds 23 seconds into the game, but Cato’s play kept LMU within striking distance. Sophomore utility KK Clark’s goal with 11 seconds left in the first gave the Bruins a 3-2 lead, but it also marked the start of the scoring drought and was the last lead UCLA would see on the day. LMU reeled off three straight goals before Clark responded in the fourth. LMU still had a 5-4 lead and only 1:22 remained in the game.
The Bruins had their chances late, but couldn’t put their shots on target. They saw their season come to an end after a shot by Clark with 32 seconds left went wide.
It was the first time LMU had ever beaten UCLA. It also made LMU the lowest-seeded team to reach the semifinals since the field expanded to eight teams in 2005.
“As a player, I don’t think (the mindset was) different just because we beat them before,” junior attacker Priscilla Orozco said.
“I think the pressure got to us a little bit, and we were disorganized,” Brooks said. “I think the fundamentals that we work on … we didn’t execute as well as we needed to. Obviously at the end of the year you need to make the simple plays and you need to win big games and today we didn’t do that.”
As a transfer from USC, Cato said the win was especially significant for her. “Once you get that first blockout, you just get all the jitters out and I just felt like everything (was) going my way today,” Cato added.
The match was a far cry from the previous time the two teams matched up, an 8-4 UCLA win in which the Bruins never trailed.
“To try and describe that game in a couple of minutes isn’t really going to do it any justice,” first-year Lions coach Kyle Witt said. “I think anybody who was here today saw a very evenly matched game between two great teams and we were fortunate to come out on top.”