Women’s water polo places 3rd in MPSF tournament, heads to NCAA championship
Junior attacker Bella Baia led UCLA women’s water polo in points for the second time in three games with two goals and two assists in the third-place game victory. Baia led all players in points at the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament. (Kristian Sabatino/Daily Bruin)
women’s water polo
|No. 5 seed Arizona State||7|
|No. 2 seed UCLA||12|
By Kyle Boal
May 3, 2021 1:36 p.m.
The Bruins finished on the podium at their conference tournament.
No. 2 seed UCLA women’s water polo (13-4, 9-3 MPSF) handled No. 5 seed Arizona State (13-11, 6-6) at Mona Plummer Aquatic Center 12-7 to finish third at the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament. The win marked the second consecutive third-place finish for the Bruins.
“We’re happy with the wins we had, but we’re definitely not satisfied at all about how we played,” said sophomore utility Abbi Hill. “We could have played a lot better and been a lot more consistent and that goes for everyone on the team. We feel that we could have been a lot better and definitely could have been to the championship.”
The teams split regular-season games, including UCLA’s second loss in program history to Arizona State and a sudden-death triple-overtime victory.
After only four Bruins scored in the team’s semifinal loss, nine found the back of the net Sunday. Junior attacker Bella Baia led UCLA in points with two goals and two assists, adding to her team- and tournament-high 12 points over the weekend.
Sophomore attacker Hannah Palmer and senior attacker Lexi Liebowitz had two goals each, while Hill added a goal and an assist to finish second on the team with 11 points through three games.
“My confidence personally has gone up a lot towards the end of the season, just because I feel like I’ve been able to do my job better,” Hill said. “But I don’t think that having a good weekend personally really matters if our team isn’t doing well. That’s one of our biggest issues right now. It’s really about us as a group and can’t ever be about just one person. It takes the whole team.”
The blue and gold jumped out to a 3-0 lead early in the first quarter, but nonetheless found themselves tied at four goals apiece at halftime. Behind a 5-1 third quarter, the Bruins took a four-goal lead they would only add to in the fourth.
UCLA finished 12-of-23 from the pool, improving more than 15 percentage points from Saturday’s match against Stanford. The Bruins held the Sun Devils to a weekend-worst 7-of-27 shooting, including just 1-of-15 in man-up situations. ASU’s only successful powerplay attempt came with 14 seconds remaining in the game.
On the other end, however, UCLA failed to convert during 6-on-5 opportunities Sunday, finishing 0-of-6 and 2-of-27 on the weekend. Both successful attempts came against No. 7 seed San Jose State on Friday.
“It’s quite obvious we have to work on our 6-on-5,” Baia said. “Sometimes, we’re just focused too much on being perfect, on following plays exactly and executing and, you know, we’re missing things that are clearly open. If we just focus on the small details, we’ll be able to execute.”
Senior goalkeeper Jahmea Bent got the start in the cage, tallying 10 saves and a steal en route to the win. ASU goalkeeper Chelsea Karimazondo had 27 combined saves in the first two games but only registered two against the Bruins.
“(Bent’s) presence is at a different level than I’ve ever seen in over the course of her four years,” said coach Adam Wright. “She’s really locked in, whether it’s outside the pool with the video, or her engagement, it’s just at a different level. And it’s paying off. … I believe we really have the two best goalies in the country.”
UCLA will now await an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament, which will be announced May 3. The Bruins will host the tournament at Spieker Aquatics Center from May 14 to May 16.
“Going into next weekend, I think that there is no one who wants it more than us,” Hill said. “We’ll be able to show what we’re about going into the tournament. We’re just hungry to finally show everyone who we are and what we’re made of.”