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Women’s water polo sweeps Indiana, returns home with 3 road wins in 4 days

Shooting just 3-of-22 in her last nine games and failing to score in six of them after leading UCLA women’s water polo in goals a season ago with 41 goals, sophomore attacker Abbi Hill netted 5-of-7 attempts Tuesday to tie her season high. (Daily Bruin file photo)

women's water polo

Then-No. 2 UCLA14
Then-No. 15 Indiana8
Then-No. 2 UCLA14
Then-No. 15 Indiana10

By Kyle Boal

April 15, 2021 6:20 p.m.

The Bruins capped off four games in four days with two wins in Bloomington, Indiana.

Then-No. 2 UCLA women’s water polo (10-2, 8-2 MPSF) swept conference foe then-No. 15 Indiana (8-12, 0-8) with a 14-8 win Monday and a 14-10 victory Tuesday at Counsilman-Billingsley Aquatics Center after splitting games with No. 5 Arizona State (12-7, 6-4) over the weekend.

Led by sophomore utility Abbi Hill in the final matchup of the four-game stretch, the 2020 Association of Collegiate Water Polo Coaches All-American First Team selection netted a season-high-tying five goals on seven shots, adding two steals and an assist. After shooting a combined one-of-seven in the other three games, Hill said her performance Tuesday helped her regain confidence.

“It felt really good,” Hill said. “I was kind of in a lull in terms of offense, like goals and stuff. But I think that once I started being more confident with my shot, and just really realizing that if I am super confident, and I go into the game wanting to be aggressive and wanting to score on offense and make big stops on defense, that it will just keep carrying over and it will be a positive thing.”

With both teams attempting 60 shots in the weekday games, the Bruins netted 28 to the Hoosiers’ 18. Despite six attempts at penalty shots, Indiana only converted twice while UCLA went three-of-four on its five-meter attempts.

Junior attacker Val Ayala – who registered a hat trick in goals Monday and a hat trick in assists Tuesday – attributed the team’s 11 allowed penalty shots over the four days to new rules and poor positioning.

“There definitely were a ton more penalty shots over the past four games than we’ve had,” Ayala said. “I think a lot of it has to do with the way that officiating is happening this year, especially with a lot of the new rules. Things that would have been just an exclusion last year are just going straight to a penalty. But also we didn’t put ourselves in a great position all the time, which also led to those penalties.”

Entering the matchup versus the Bruins, the Hoosiers averaged only 5.7 goals per game in their last seven contests – all part of what is now a 10-game losing streak.

Nonetheless, Indiana outscored UCLA in the second and third quarters in both matchups for a combined score of 13-11. The Bruins, however, won the final quarters 7-1 over the two days.

“In the Indiana games we had really good fourth quarters, but our second and third just were a little flat,” Hill said. “It takes a lot of consistency and that’s what we have been obsessing over as a team, just being able to bring energy every single quarter and not having any lapses in energy and any lapses in aggression from one quarter to the next.”

Redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Georgia Phillips earned 12 saves and a steal, allowing eight goals Monday, while senior goalkeeper Jahmea Bent recorded nine saves and a steal, letting in 10 goals Tuesday.

Leading the team in points in every doubleheader this season, sophomore attacker Hannah Palmer scored on 8-of-12 attempts with three assists and two drawn exclusions against the Hoosiers. Junior center Ava Johnson joined Palmer as the only players to score at least two goals in both games.

Despite having about half the number of games UCLA would typically have by mid-April, Ayala said the team’s connection in the pool is as strong as ever.

“We’re feeling good. There’s a lot of things that we need to improve on, but every day, every game, we’re trying to just be the best team that we can be,” Ayala said. “And hopefully, that’s going to put us in a position to be successful at the end of the season. We’re confident in our ability, (and) we’re confident in our system. We trust each other and you could say we’re vibing together in the pool.”

After playing a third of their schedule in four days, the Bruins will have a bye week before now-No. 3 UCLA returns to play undefeated No. 1 USC at home. Hill said this season has been a test for the Bruins but winning a national championship is still their main priority.

“It’s been a really hard season for this team and we’ve had a lot of struggles,” Hill said. “But our want to win the national championship has never wavered and I think that’s what’s really special about this team. We’ve gone through so much together that we were able to come out of it and be confident and be excited to play the game the right way.”

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Kyle Boal | Assistant Sports editor
Boal is currently the assistant Sports editor and a reporter on the gymnastics, rowing, swim and dive, men's water polo and women's water polo beats. He was previously a contributor on the men's water polo and women's water polo beats. He is also a second-year student studying statistics.
Boal is currently the assistant Sports editor and a reporter on the gymnastics, rowing, swim and dive, men's water polo and women's water polo beats. He was previously a contributor on the men's water polo and women's water polo beats. He is also a second-year student studying statistics.
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