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UCLA women’s water polo faces new opponents in growing collegiate sport

UCLA women’s water polo players celebrate during a game in 2021. In its four-game sweep at the Michigan Invitational on Saturday and Sunday, the No. 3-ranked Bruins faced a pair of opponents they had never faced in the program’s history. (Ariana Fadel/Daily Bruin staff)

By Kyle Boal

Feb. 2, 2022 4:22 p.m.

The Bruins don’t face new opponents often.

No. 3 UCLA women’s water polo (9-0, 1-0 MPSF) has played 19 opponents at least 10 times apiece in the program’s history dating back to 1995. The blue and gold traditionally face the same foes, attending the UC Santa Barbara Invitational, Michigan Invitational, Triton Invitational, Barbara Kalbus Invitational and completing a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation conference schedule during most seasons.

However, at the Michigan Invitational last weekend, the Bruins matched up against two teams they have yet to face in school history. Salem, located in West Virginia, created its women’s water polo program in 2019, while No. 17 Long Island University in New York started its team in 2020.

After the invitational, junior utility Abbi Hill – who has as much collegiate water polo experience as LIU’s program – said coach Adam Wright is typically equipped with extensive film and preparation on each opponent.

But when facing the Tigers and Sharks, Hill said her team approached things differently.

“We usually have a very long scouting report for teams because we know them so well,” Hill said. “But for these games, we didn’t actually have any sort of scouting report because we’ve never played them before. It was good to be doing something new and to be playing against new people, and I think that it really shows how much the sport is growing.”

Even with California being home to roughly half of the colleges in the country with a women’s water polo team, after this weekend, the Bruins have faced 20 out-of-state opponents in their history.

Wright said the more options student-athletes have when it comes to selecting a future college, the better.

“That’s the cool thing about women’s water polo, there’s teams from all over the country,” Wright said. “It’s really important, not only for the sport, but for the young kids coming up to see all the different options there are for school.”

While UCLA defeated Salem and LIU by a combined score of 41-6, the Sharks were able to leave the weekend with an upset victory. LIU stunned then-No. 10 Indiana 14-9 to earn its first win over a ranked opponent in program history.

Wright said he spoke with his team about the interconference upset.

“We try to talk to our girls about Indiana losing to a Long Island team,” Wright said. “Everybody wants to beat MPSF teams, and we have to be ready. You give credit to Long Island. The reality is they ended up winning a game against a really good Indiana team.”

Senior utility Katrina Drake – a 2020 Honorable Mention All-American – said she’s grateful for what the sport has given her and hopes other universities creating teams gives other players the same opportunities.

“Water polo has taught me a lot about myself and about how to interact in team environments,” Drake said. “I’ve learned a lot of life lessons that I think I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. Playing a sport – especially in college – has been the most incredible experience and the best journey I could have asked for.”

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Kyle Boal | Sports senior staff
Boal is currently a Sports senior staff writer on the women's water polo beat. He was an assistant Sports editor on the gymnastics, rowing, swim and dive, men's water polo and women's water polo beats. Boal was previously a contributor on the men's water polo and women's water polo beats.
Boal is currently a Sports senior staff writer on the women's water polo beat. He was an assistant Sports editor on the gymnastics, rowing, swim and dive, men's water polo and women's water polo beats. Boal was previously a contributor on the men's water polo and women's water polo beats.
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