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Women’s water polo finishes tied for 2nd with early end to season

Senior defender Brooke Maxson ended the shortened 2020 campaign with 11 goals for UCLA women’s water polo. She has possibly played her final matches for the Bruins. (Elise Tsai/Daily Bruin)

By Jack Perez

April 20, 2020 6:49 p.m.

This post was updated April 21 at 9:49 a.m.

Freshman utility Abbi Hill summed up her team’s feelings in just a couple of lines.

“(Coach Adam Wright) didn’t even know what to say,” Hill said. “We were all in shock.”

UCLA women’s water polo (19-2, 2-0 MPSF) saw its season canceled just five games out from the postseason. The Bruins finished the year tied for second in the Collegiate Water Polo Association rankings and never dropped out of the top five.

The team was on the road in Stockton, California, after defeating then-No. 23 Pacific for its second win in as many days. But after Wright and his team returned to Southern California on March 8, everything changed.

“(On March 11), we start hearing about the possibility of no fans in the stands,” Wright said. “By Thursday night, everything had been suspended. By Friday, seasons were done. Because it happened so suddenly, it didn’t seem real.”

Although the season ended abruptly, Wright said his third season at the helm for the women’s program was not a lost year. UCLA finished 1-1 against its crosstown rival USC. Hill scored twice in the victory Feb. 9 to give Wright his first win against the Trojan’s women’s team. The Bruins tallied 15-consecutive wins from Jan. 18 to Feb. 22, the longest streak of Wright’s time as the women’s coach.

Though it was just her first season in Westwood, Hill was the breakout star for the Bruins. The All-MPSF First-Team selection had 41 goals on the season, including a season-high seven in UCLA’s Jan. 26 matchup versus then-No. 21 Wagner. Hill said playing in her first collegiate games was the high point of her rookie year in Westwood.

“You practice every single day, twice a day,” Hill said. “Practice can be really tough, so when you get to play a game, it can be a break. Playing every game made me really excited.”

Hill helped fill the void left by two of the Bruins’ top-three scorers from 2019 – redshirt senior attackers Maddie Musselman and Bronte Halligan – who had spent the year training for Tokyo 2020. With the games being postponed until 2021, it’s unclear whether the two – who combined for 95 goals in 2019 – will return to play another game at the Spieker Aquatics Center.

Senior defender Brooke Maxson was one of 11 players to score at least 10 goals for the Bruins. Before the cancellation of the season, Maxson was one of two seniors who were not expected to return next season. With her senior season cut short, she said she has thoughts about returning to Westwood if UCLA Athletics grants her an extra year of eligibility.

“I think there’s a lot of unknown globally,” Maxson said. “There hasn’t been a lot of communication (from UCLA Athletics). Just a little bit here and there, nothing set in stone.”

While Wright did not have the opportunity to see his team in the postseason, he said it was unlike either of the two he had before.

“With this group, there’s absolutely no regret,” Wright said. “There’s a million what-if scenarios. You know when a group is special. This team was headed without a doubt to a place where they were gonna have a chance to be the best in the country.”

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