Monday, March 30

Women’s water polo wins show strategic Bruin improvement, lock on NCAA spot

Junior attacker Maddie Musselman logged a hat trick in UCLA women's water polo's third-place win over California on Sunday afternoon at the Avery Aquatic Center. The Bruins defeated the bears 7-6 at the MPSF championship. (Andy Bao/Daily Bruin)

The Bruins took the rubber match and likely locked up a spot in the NCAA championship.

No. 3 seed UCLA (23-6, 4-2 MPSF) defeated No. 4 seed California (16-8, 3-3) 7-6 in the third-place game of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Championship at the Avery Aquatic Center in Palo Alto, California.

This was the Bruins’ second win in three games this season against the Golden Bears.

Junior attacker Maddie Musselman led all scorers with three goals, but it was her two assists in the first quarter that put the Bruins in a 2-2 tie after one period of play.

“Yesterday, I didn’t play very well,” Musselman said. “I think today was a huge bonus for me to get back into the groove of things. During the week, whether I make certain shots or not, (I know to) just keep going.”

Musselman scored her first goal of the day on a power play in the second frame to give the Bruins a 3-2 edge. The Bruins were 5-for-8 in 6-on-5 opportunities against the Bears, an improvement over their 2-for-12 mark in their last game out.

Both teams scored four goals in the third quarter. Musselman scored twice and completed a hat trick, while junior attacker Bronte Halligan and sophomore attacker Roxy Wheaton each added one. The Bruins’ defense allowed the Bears to stay close, and the score was 7-6 heading into the final period.

“We’re going to need (Musselman) to do the things she is capable of doing if we want to have a chance to be the best team in the country,” said coach Adam Wright. “Nobody sees the small things that she’s doing. She’s really special.”

Neither team was able to break through in the final minutes of the game, as both defenses tightened up. Senior goalie Carlee Kapana made multiple saves in the last quarter, finishing with 12 saves for the game.

Kapana said her past experiences against the Bears helped, but sticking to what made her a three-time All-MPSF winner prepared her for this moment.

“I definitely looked back on past games,” Kapana said. “Knowing where people like to shoot and stuff like that. I know who their best shooters are, but I mainly I try to react.”

In their first game of the weekend, UCLA beat No. 6 seed Arizona State 10-5. The Bruins were led by Halligan and freshman attacker Val Ayala with two goals each. The Sun Devils pulled within two going into the final quarter, but the Bruins won the final frame 4-1 to advance to the semifinal.

In the semifinal, UCLA fell to No. 2 seed USC by a score of 9-4. The Bruins were just 2-for-12 when on the power play as they gave up four fourth quarter goals to send them to the third-place game. This was UCLA’s third loss this year to its crosstown rival.

With the third-place finish, the Bruins are likely to grab an at-large spot for the NCAA championships. The final tournament of the season will start May 10 and will also be played at Stanford.

Wright said the growth his team has shown this season is already impressive, but he believes there is even more room to improve.

“We’ve come a long way,” Wright said. “These next eight days of training are going to be really critical for our program. If we can continue to grow, we’re going to have our opportunities.”

Assistant Sports editor

Perez is currently an assistant Sports editor on the men's volleyball, women's water polo and track and field beats. He was previously a staff writer on the football, gymnastics, beach volleyball, women's water polo and men's water polo beats.

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