It wouldn’t be a true UCLA women’s water polo season without a postseason surge. This year’s Bruins were happy to keep that trend going, and not even undefeated Stanford could stop them.
The No. 4-seeded Bruins felled the No. 1 Cardinal in the semifinals of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament on Saturday, holding on for dear life to secure the 9-8 win.
UCLA (24-6) finished in second place after a loss in the final to No. 2 California (22-4) but will likely advance to the NCAA Tournament as an at-large selection.
Sophomore attacker Brooke Martin served as UCLA’s ace in the hole against the Cardinal (25-1), erupting for a hat trick after scoring only four goals against MPSF competition all year.
“Stanford didn’t really know what (Martin) had, and she just blew them up, and it was awesome,” senior center Grace Reynolds said.
UCLA went toe-to-toe with Stanford at the outset, finishing the first quarter tied at three goals apiece. Martin put in her first goal to open the second quarter and put the Bruins up 4-3, a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish.
“We needed to get in front of them and get in their heads and just come out with a big bang, then shut them down so they couldn’t come back,” Martin said.
It took everything in the Bruins’ power to make sure the Cardinal didn’t mount a comeback. Stanford cut the UCLA lead to one goal with 3:22 remaining in the game.
The Bruins bent but didn’t break. The defense tightened up, stopping two Cardinal 6-on-5 opportunities to seal the win.
“The last three and a half minutes were just all out defense,” Reynolds said.
Despite falling to the Bears in the final, UCLA will likely head to the NCAA Tournament, which will be held in Ann Arbor, Mich., May 13-15.
Coach Brandon Brooks said he thinks UCLA will be the No. 3 seed in the six-team field.
If that happens, the Bruins would be the same seed they were a year ago after they won the MPSF Tournament. But the 2010 season ended in an upset loss to Loyola Marymount in the first round, a fate UCLA would like to avoid in 2011.
“I don’t think we have to change anything, I think we have to practice adjusting better,” Reynolds said.
“We can do a lot in two weeks.”