Women’s water polo ends season with loss to Stanford in narrow NCAA semifinal game
Senior goalkeeper Carlee Kapana allowed just one goal in about 2 1/2 quarters after allowing Stanford to go up to 5-0 in the second quarter. (Ellie Tsai/Daily Bruin)
By Jack Perez
May. 12, 2019 1:51 pm
This post was updated May 13 at 3 p.m.
PALO ALTO, Calif. — The Bruins’ season ended the same way the previous one did: a loss to the host team in the final four.
No. 3 seed UCLA women’s water polo (24-7, 4-2 MPSF) fell to No. 2 seed Stanford (22-2, 6-0) 8-7 in the semifinals of the NCAA championship Saturday evening. The Bruins fell in the second round for the second straight year under coach Adam Wright.
The Cardinal scored the first five goals of the game, but the Bruins rebounded to take a 6-5 lead in the fourth quarter. Wright said his team’s determination took over in the late stages to start the comeback.
“(Making the comeback) is not easy,” Wright said. “We’re a team that doesn’t have as much experience as Stanford. It just says a lot about (our team’s) will.”
The Bruins kept the Cardinal scoreless in the second half until there was only 2:49 left in the fourth quarter to tie it up 6-6. The Cardinal answered with the first two goals of overtime, and the Bruins could not muster up another comeback.
Wright said his team’s gameplan in the second half and overtime allowed the Bruins to stay in the game and force the Cardinal to make shots in overtime.
“Our goal is to keep them in front of us,” Wright said. “We were able to slow that down on the back end of the game. When they had to go through our frontcourt defense and through (senior goalie Carlee Kapana), it becomes tough.”
The first quarter saw the Bruins go scoreless when they went 0-of-4 for man-up opportunities. Stanford found the back of the cage four times, including goals on its one power play chance and a penalty shot.
The Bruins finally got on the scoreboard after the Cardinal scored its fifth goal. Senior defender Rachel Whitelegge was the first Bruin on the scoresheet, with sophomore attacker Roxy Wheaton joining her with 14 seconds left in the half to bring the Bruins to a 5-2 deficit at halftime.
Whitelegge said that past games that she has experienced against the Cardinal helped the team stay determined even when they were down three at the half.
“There’s a lot of history that goes back with us and Stanford,” Whitelegge said. “We’re headed in the right direction. We’re making moves toward where we need to be in the future.”
UCLA pulled even with Stanford in the third quarter thanks to goals from freshman attacker Val Ayala, junior attacker Maddie Musselman and sophomore attacker Lexi Liebowitz. Both teams missed power play opportunities in the last half of the quarter as the game went to the last period tied 5-5.
Redshirt senior attacker Grace Reego played her final game for the Bruins. She said this year’s team is the one that has felt most like a family to her in her five years of being in Westwood.
“In my five years, this is the team with the most trust and cohesion,” Reego said. “Although the outcome looked similar (to past games against Stanford), I’m really proud to see that internal culture change.”
Since Wright took over the team for the 2017-2018 season, UCLA has been bounced in the semifinals and have not won a title since 2009. However, Wright said he was happy with how his team progressed during the season and is excited for the next one.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our team,” Wright said. “It could have gone in a completely different way. To be on this stage, to fight back, to get ahead, I couldn’t ask for more.”