When the players on the UCLA and Stanford women’s water polo teams exit the pool and shake hands this weekend, “see you soon” will make for a more fitting post-match salutation than “good game.”
The No. 1 Cardinal and No. 2 Bruins face off this Saturday at Spieker Aquatics Center to determine the No. 1 seed in next weekend’s Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament, but the two are guaranteed to be on opposite sides of the bracket and could meet again next Sunday in the tournament’s championship game.
With two intense games split between these teams already this season, UCLA is taking this week to ready itself for what is expected to be another draining match.
“We’ve got to mentally prepare for the battle,” coach Brandon Brooks said. “This is No. 1 versus No. 2 and it’s going to be a very important game, a very high-level game, hopefully a game we should be ready to compete in. We’re going to see where we stand.”
To repeat their upset of the Cardinal (20-1, 6-0 MPSF) from nearly two months ago, the Bruins (18-2, 5-1) must emphasize slowing the pace of the game, look for open opportunities and not force themselves into low-percentage shots, especially in advantage situations.
Six-on-fives were a struggle for the team against No. 7 LMU Sunday. It will need to do a better job of converting those opportunities in order to keep up with a powerful Stanford offense that averages more than 12 goals per game.
“With six-on-five, being 2-for-10, that’s the game right there,” senior attacker Sarah Orozco said about Sunday. “I think we were rushed. We all felt like we had to score. We all wanted to create something right away.”
UCLA will be forced to rely on the resilience and late-game focus it has shown all season, considering the emotional magnitude of the game. In addition to being the final showing at Spieker for the team’s seniors, Saturday’s match pits the Bruins against one of their most bitter rivals.
“I would say other than ‘SC, (Stanford is) our top rival,” senior attacker Hannah Sebenaler said. “There’s always a lot of emotion in these games. … These are the games that we really work hard for. They’re scary and they’re nerve-wracking, but those are ultimately the ones that make all the hard work worthwhile.”