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Women’s water polo analyzes film between games to study opponents, win rematches

Director of Operations Michael Hull stands poolside capturing film for the team. (Courtesy of Minette Rubin)

By Sam Settleman

April 27, 2021 3:45 p.m.

Hours after the Bruins handed the Trojans their worst loss since 2001, coach Adam Wright sat down to watch film.

“The life,” Wright said.

When No. 3 UCLA women’s water polo (11-3, 9-3 MPSF) took to the pool last weekend at Spieker Aquatics Center and split a two-game series with No. 1 USC (17-1, 11-1), there were fans in the stands for the first time all season. But the Bruins have had an extra set of eyes on them all year long.

Perched atop the four diving platforms on the west side of Dirks Pool have been video cameras operated by eight members of the team, who sit up to 10 meters above the pool for the duration of the game. Between those cameras and other cameras lining the pool deck, Wright and his team have no shortage of film to watch.

(Courtesy of Minette Rubin)
(Courtesy of Minette Rubin)

In an altered 2021 regular-season schedule in which all conference matchups have been played in the form of doubleheaders, UCLA has taken advantage of the opportunity to watch film and make adjustments. The Bruins are the only team in the conference with an undefeated record on the second leg of each back-to-back.

“The nice part is we get to see the same team tomorrow, and we get to see how we can kind of right some wrongs,” Wright said after Saturday’s 5-3 defeat to the Trojans.

Following its lowest-scoring game in over two years, UCLA returned with a 13-goal performance, tied for the fourth-most goals scored in program history against USC or Stanford – the only teams other than the Bruins to win an NCAA championship.

The Trojans let in the least goals per game of any top-five team in the country entering the weekend, allowing just over seven goals a contest.

Redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Georgia Phillips said her team was able to turn around its poor shooting performance Saturday by dissecting the movements of USC goalkeeper Holly Parker, who ranks second in the conference in save percentage.

“I think our team felt a lot more comfortable shooting (Sunday) after watching film on the goalie,” Phillips said.

UCLA more than tripled its shooting percentage Sunday after posting a season-low 14% clip Saturday.

Junior attacker Val Ayala – who scored a career-high four goals in Sunday’s contest en route to her first MPSF/KAP7 Player of the Week award – said the Bruins went back to the basics to correct Saturday’s shortcomings.

“We kind of just looked at ourselves a lot, looked at what we were doing and what we were not doing,” Ayala said. “(We) reevaluated the basic things that we need to do – counter structure, getting down to the two. Just little things that we were not doing. And so, fixing those (Sunday) all added up and helped in a big way.”

Preparation came into play once more when Phillips was whistled for an exclusion in the second period Sunday, marking the first time a Bruin goalkeeper was excluded all season. With three non-goalkeepers manning the cage and just two defenders guarding the six USC players in the frontcourt, sophomore attacker Fiona Kuesis made the stop in goal.

In total, UCLA held a USC team averaging almost 13 goals per game entering the weekend to 11 goals in two contests. The Trojans would finish the weekend 3-of-21 on the power play, scoring just one goal at even strength Sunday.

“I think the biggest thing over the weekend is that our team got to see, when they do things the right way, how things can be – not on a results basis, but just the positions they put themselves in,” Wright said.

With the regular season wrapped up, the Bruins will focus their attention on the MPSF tournament next weekend. Having now played each of the top-five teams in the country two times apiece, UCLA is well aware of what lies in the way of its national championship aspirations, according to its coach. But Wright said none of that matters unless his team executes.

“We know very well what our opponents are going to do, but it really always comes back to us,” Wright said. “Can we keep our presence? Can we play fundamentally great positional defense? If we do those things, then no matter who we play, we’ll have our chance. And that’s all you want is a chance.”

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Sam Settleman | Assistant Sports editor
Settleman is currently an assistant Sports editor on the gymnastics, women's soccer, women's golf, women's water polo and men's water polo beats. He was previously a contributor on the gymnastics and women's water polo beats.
Settleman is currently an assistant Sports editor on the gymnastics, women's soccer, women's golf, women's water polo and men's water polo beats. He was previously a contributor on the gymnastics and women's water polo beats.
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