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UCLA women’s water polo kicks off season with 5 wins, return of MVP

Redshirt junior goalkeeper Georgia Phillips recorded a career-high 18 saves for No. 3 UCLA women’s water polo in a victory over No. 18 UC Santa Barbara on Sunday. The Bruins’ win over the Gauchos was one of five wins on the weekend for the blue and gold. (Christine Kao/Daily Bruin staff)

Women's Water Polo

No. 3 UCLA15
No. 23 Wagner College8
No. 3 UCLA20
No. 21 California Baptist University3
No. 3 UCLA21
Ottawa University-Arizona1
No. 3 UCLA11
No. 9 UC San Diego6
No. 3 UCLA21
No. 18 UC Santa Barbara8

By Cole Lizar

Jan. 25, 2022 12:16 p.m.

The MVP of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics returned to NCAA water polo last weekend.

No. 3 UCLA women’s water polo (5-0) opened its season Friday through Sunday with five wins at the UC Santa Barbara Invitational. The blue and gold took down No. 23 Wagner College (2-2) to begin its campaign Friday before adding victories over No. 21 California Baptist University (0-4), Ottawa University-Arizona (0-6), No. 9 UC San Diego (2-2) and No. 18 UCSB (4-2) over the weekend.

After a two-year Olympic hiatus, redshirt senior attacker Maddie Musselman scored 14 goals across the five contests to pace the Bruins in their opening weekend.

The 21-8 win to close out the weekend avenged the Bruins’ single-goal loss to the Gauchos two years ago when UCLA lost to UCSB for only the second time in program history.

The Bruins scored the first three goals of the game before the Gauchos responded with a goal of their own from attacker Nina Munson. But after the first quarter, UCLA found itself with a five-point lead and kept its foot on the gas until the final buzzer rang.

The Bruins’ first-quarter effort was led by freshman attacker Molly Renner’s three early goals – the first hat trick of her collegiate career.

“This is the time of the year where we’re constantly changing rotations,” said coach Adam Wright. “There’s no doubt our four freshmen are going to be critical pieces for us.”

In the second quarter, UCLA saw four different players find the back of the net. Senior center Ava Johnson and sophomore attacker Malia Allen led the way with two goals each, and Johnson closed out the period with a power-play goal to earn herself a hat trick.

Scoring twice in the first half against the Gauchos, Musselman said returning to Westwood after her MVP performance in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics brought Team USA the gold evoked some nerves.

“I was definitely nervous going into the weekend after not being with the Bruins for a really long time, but once that first whistle blew, it was pretty easy to get back into the groove of things with this team,” Musselman said. “Everyone got out there at some point this weekend and got to showcase the talent that this group has.”

The Bruins continued to roll in the third quarter against UCSB, adding six more goals from five different players. Johnson led the way again, contributing two more scores, en route to a career-high five goals on the evening. Musselman added a goal and a steal in the third quarter to help the Bruins end the period with a 13-point lead.

Wright said the tandem of Johnson and Musselman has brought great leadership to the UCLA program.

“(Johnson and Musselman) are two women that have a consistent approach to everything they do, and that’s important for the new players watching,” Wright said. “Those two are going to be super critical for where we go as a program.”

The Bruins held the Gauchos to eight goals on the night. UCLA’s defensive effort was led by redshirt junior goalkeeper Georgia Phillips, who contributed a career-high 18 saves.

Phillips said the Bruins brought a consistent effort on the defensive end all weekend.

“We were moving as one unit, and I think that really helped us funnel in the defense tonight,” Phillips said. “We had a lot of intensity and energy, and it didn’t die out over the course of the weekend.”

Over the course of the weekend, UCLA saw 17 different players find the back of the net, totaling 88 goals while holding opponents to 26 in the process.

Wright said UCLA will continue to focus on team chemistry and growth with hopes of bringing home an NCAA championship at the end of the season.

“Our culture is everything – how we approach things no matter what the score is, no matter what the environment we’re in,” Wright said.

The Bruins will return to the pool for the Michigan Invitational on Saturday and Sunday.

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Cole Lizar | Sports contributor
Lizar is currently a Sports contributor on the women's water polo beat. He was previously a contributor on the men's water polo beat.
Lizar is currently a Sports contributor on the women's water polo beat. He was previously a contributor on the men's water polo beat.
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