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Women’s water polo MPSF tournament predictions

(Photos by Christine Kao/Daily Bruin staff and Vinukh Kalansuriya/Daily Bruin. Photo illustration by Kanishka Mehra/Photo editor)

By Sam Settleman, Taiyo Keilin, and Kyle Boal

April 29, 2021 5:53 p.m.

No. 2 seed UCLA women’s water polo (11-3, 9-3 MPSF) will face No. 7 seed San Jose State (2-14, 1-11) in the opening round of the MPSF tournament. With a win, it would go on to face either No. 3 seed Stanford (10-4, 8-4) or No. 6 seed Indiana (9-15, 1-11), with a chance to advance to the conference championship on Sunday where the Bruins will face one of No. 1 seed USC (17-1, 11-1), No. 4 seed California (11-6, 6-6) or No. 5 seed Arizona State (12-9, 6-6). Read Daily Bruin Sports’ opinions on where the Bruins will finish in Tempe.

Kyle Boal
Assistant Sports editor
Prediction: MPSF runners-up

What is more important – a conference title or national title?

In the last 10 years, the team that won the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament has claimed the national title only four times. Since 2010, UCLA has won the conference four times but has failed to bring a championship trophy to Westwood.

Handing the top-seeded Trojans their worst loss since 2001 by the exact score, 13-6, of a previous Bruin women’s team that went on to win the inaugural NCAA title was a statement win for the blue and gold to close the season and certainly no fluke.

But if winning the conference title means a low probability of winning the national title, why pick the Bruins to win? They’re more than capable of doing it, but I predict they fall short in the conference title game to USC.

After a potential 20-point performance against San Jose State on Friday, UCLA will more than likely face Stanford in the semifinal round. Despite splitting games with the Cardinal in the regular season, in the second contest, the Bruins went up 9-4 before allowing five unanswered goals – but flashed the same blowout potential the team showcased against the Trojans.

Stanford goalkeeper Emalia Eichelberger is arguably the best goalkeeper in collegiate water polo, while two-time All-American driver Sarah Klass and potential MPSF/KAP7 Newcomer of the Year driver Jewel Roemer are some of the game’s best offensive threats. Nonetheless, UCLA’s depth should allow it to overcome Saturday’s challenge.

Which in all likelihood leads the Bruins to a tie-breaking third meeting with rival Trojans.

UCLA men’s water polo lost both of its games at the conference tournament before winning the school’s 119th national title. A loss to USC will give the blue and gold all the more reason to fight for the 120th.

In a hard-fought Crosstown Splashdown, the Trojans will emerge the victors of a 9-8 battle, but the Bruins will have the last laugh when they host the NCAA tournament at Spieker Aquatics Center.

Sam Settleman
Daily Bruin reporter
Prediction: MPSF champions

As I sat in the stands Sunday among Trojan players and parents alike who watched in awe and questioned the legitimacy of the 13-6 drubbing the Bruins had managed, I knew this team had turned a corner.

But the fate of UCLA’s 2021 campaign did not magically turn around Sunday. In fact, the Bruins’ season began its upward trend in Bloomington, Indiana, on the tail end of a grueling four-game road trip.

A pair of 14-8 and 14-10 wins versus Indiana – a team that had lost eight straight games by an average of 6.63 goals per game – is certainly not something to write home about, but according to coach Adam Wright, those games were a turning point for his team and his players’ confidence.

On the heels of just its second loss to Arizona State in program history, UCLA received some long-awaited contributions from a few of its top performers a season ago.

After leading the team in goals her freshman year with 41 goals in 21 games, sophomore utility Abbi Hill had gone relatively quiet, scoring just one goal in her last seven games prior to the two-game slate against Indiana. Hill found herself with a first-quarter hat trick in game two, finishing with five goals on the day and six goals, two assists and four steals in the series.

Meanwhile, junior attacker Val Ayala posted her first hat trick of the season, and sophomore attacker Hannah Palmer continued her torrid pace with an eight-goal, three-assist weekend.

With the offense back in gear, the Bruins were still in dire need of a defensive transformation. UCLA got just that in the Crosstown Splashdown, holding top seed USC to a season-low five goals Saturday and six goals Sunday.

Everything is clicking right now for the Bruins, who will ride the momentum of their historic win in their final regular-season contest to claim their first MPSF championship since 2017.

Taiyo Keilin
Assistant Sports editor
Prediction: MPSF runners-up

Everything I know about water polo – and granted, my knowledge is still quite limited – was learned either while watching the men’s victory over USC in March to claim UCLA’s 119th national championship or from editing Kyle’s water polo stories, namely this lengthy scouting report.

So, I think that qualifies me to write this prediction.

It has become clear to me that UCLA women’s water polo and its 11 national championships are a force to be reckoned with, and following an 11-3 regular season capped off by a dominating win over top-seeded USC – I know it was dominating because of Kyle’s Slack usage – the Bruins should not be short on confidence.

UCLA opens the tournament with San Jose State – a program that won only one MPSF game all season and lost all but two of its conference games by at least five goals. The Bruins will have no problem in the first round.

The second-round matchup will likely pit UCLA against Stanford. Both regular-season contests were one-goal games, with the second giving the Bruins their first win over the Cardinal since 2017. With no reason to believe that victory cannot be replicated and a liking for championship games, I have UCLA making it to the finals, where it will face off with the aforementioned USC.

After a gritty, perhaps double-overtime finale, the Trojans will – for the third consecutive year – be taking the MPSF trophy back to downtown Los Angeles.

However, come the NCAA tournament, should there be another battle of LA, I like the Bruins’ chance of overcoming the Trojans en route to Wright winning the double. But that is for another prediction.

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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.
Taiyo Keilin | Assistant Sports editor
Keilin is currently an assistant Sports editor on the baseball, women's soccer, cross country, women's golf and men's golf beats. He was previously a contributor on the baseball, women's golf and men's golf beats.
Keilin is currently an assistant Sports editor on the baseball, women's soccer, cross country, women's golf and men's golf beats. He was previously a contributor on the baseball, women's golf and men's golf beats.
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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