Anyone who has ever watched Grace Reynolds play water polo can testify to her intensity. It was apparent in Saturday’s game against USC, when she rattled off a game-high four goals to win her the UCLA/Muscle Milk Athlete of the Week crown.
But when asked about the progress of the season, the senior center is all smiles.
“It’s awesome. It’s pretty freaking awesome, really,” she said. “We started (the USC game) hard and finished hard. That’s all we have to do for the rest of the season, basically.”
The rest of No. 4 UCLA’s season begins with today’s game against No. 8 Loyola Marymount, a team that UCLA has beaten by no more than three points in both of this season’s previous matchups.
But with the momentum of a huge rivalry win behind them, the Bruins are feeling some much-needed confidence, which has been lacking for much of their roller-coaster season.
“Being able to play together as a team and have such a good win was really good for our team morale,” freshman goalie Sami Hill said. “The ‘SC game started our push toward beginning to play better, and we’re really excited to do it again.”
The Bruins are trying to remain cautious in their optimism, however. It was almost this time last year, after all, that sixth-seeded LMU upset third-seeded UCLA in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Championships, forcing the Bruins out of contention for a national title that would have been their sixth in a row.
“LMU is a tough team to play,” coach Brandon Brooks said. “They’re not the most conventional team ““ they have a lot of movement and a bit of a different system.”
This challenging style of play will be a good test for the Bruins, who have only just begun to put together the pieces of their own game strategy.
Saturday’s game against USC featured a poised, confident UCLA team that seized nearly every scoring opportunity. Whether this composure remains without the passion and crowd support of a rivalry game, however, remains to be seen.
“We’re just trying to keep our momentum going,” Reynolds said. “We’re going to try to have the same mindset: Take no prisoners.”
Reynolds, senior attacker Priscilla Orozco and junior utility KK Clark, all leading scorers and returners from last season’s starting lineup, are expected to be key components in today’s game, which will be the second-to-last home game for the seniors. And while the Bruins are certainly enjoying the weekend’s confidence boost, the veteran roster ““ UCLA didn’t lose a single player after the 2010 season ““ knows better than to rest on its laurels.
“We haven’t really won anything,” Brooks said. “Our season goal was not to win that game; it’s to be successful in the biggest way. If anything, I hope it just makes us hungrier for the next game ““ hungrier to play like we know we can play.”