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UCLA women’s water polo breaks winning streak with loss to Stanford

Senior attacker Val Ayala posted a hat trick against No. 4 Stanford on Sunday, but No. 1 UCLA women’s water polo fell to the Cardinal after giving up a 6-1 run to close out the contest. (Anya Yakimenko/Daily Bruin)

Women's Water Polo


No. 1 UCLA11
No. 10 UC Davis6
No. 1 UCLA15
No. 11 UC San Diego7
No. 1 UCLA12
No. 5 Hawai'i10
No. 1 UCLA9
No. 4 Stanford12

By Cole Lizar

Feb. 28, 2022 5:29 p.m.

In the fourth quarter of their title game, the Bruins lost their leader in the pool and a chance to bring win No. 100 to coach Adam Wright.

After giving up a 4-0 run in the final frame to No. 4 Stanford (11-1), No. 1 UCLA women’s water polo (18-1, 2-0 MPSF) fell shy of stretching its win streak to 19 games at the Barbara Kalbus Invitational in Irvine, California. The blue and gold beat No. 10 UC Davis (10-8) and No. 11 UC San Diego (9-7) on Friday, before adding a win over No. 5 Hawai’i (8-4) on Saturday and finally falling to Stanford in the final contest of the tournament Sunday.

The Bruins opened the weekend with an 11-goal performance against the Aggies, seeing 10 different players find the back of the net.

In its next game of the weekend, UCLA had a chance to pick up another win over UC San Diego after earning a comeback victory over the Tritons earlier in the year. The blue and gold began the rematch by scoring the first seven goals of the contest, eventually leading 10-1 at the half.

Behind a hat trick from freshman utility Nicole Struss and two goals from freshman attacker Emma Lineback, the Bruins prevailed in a 15-7 victory over the Tritons.

Wright said consistency between matchups is paramount.

“We’re a team that’s trying to figure out a consistent approach,” Wright said. “Our approach against San Diego was completely different from Hawai’i. We can’t let a new situation or team affect our approach. That’s where we have to get more consistent.”

UCLA ran a drop defense in an effort to contain Hawai’i in its next game, but Rainbow Wahine center Elyse Lemay-Lavoie and utility Morgan McDowall combined for seven drawn ejections against the Bruins.

Entering the final minute of play, UCLA held a two-point lead – its largest of the matchup – until Hawai’i deposited a goal with 52 seconds remaining. The Bruins responded with the final goal of the game, a converted power-play opportunity from senior center Ava Johnson.

Wright said he believed the team’s defensive struggles in the contest were psychological, not physical.

“Our defenders (Saturday) against Hawai’i didn’t help themselves,” Wright said. “But give Hawai’i credit from an intensity and energy standpoint. They dictated the game from beginning to end and we were just trying to get through the game.”

The next day the Bruins faced the Cardinal, a team coming fresh off a six-point victory over No. 2 USC.

UCLA’s first-half efforts were headlined by two goals from sophomore attacker Anneliese Miller and a hat trick from senior attacker Val Ayala.

Miller said the Bruins’ strong start gave the team early momentum.

“We came out with really good energy in the first quarter, and offensively, we were attacking really well,” Miller said. “We tried to continue that in the second quarter, but we had a bit of a drop-off. Hopefully, in the future, we can continue with the energy we start with.”

In the third quarter of the game, redshirt junior goalkeeper Georgia Phillips recorded her second save on a penalty shot of the contest. The Bruins were whistled for four total penalties and 17 total ejections over the duration of the matchup.

Foul trouble kept two Olympians from completing the game with their respective teams, as Stanford 2-meters Aria Fischer and UCLA’s Maddie Musselman were both ejected with three exclusions apiece.

Ayala said Musselman is important on both offense and defense for the Bruins.

“(Musselman) is a huge piece of our team, she does a lot for us,” Ayala said. “She has a really big impact on both sides of the pool.”

Stanford scored six of the final seven goals of the game and ultimately won 12-9.

After finishing the tournament short of a perfect record, Wright said the Bruins are still keeping their heads up.

“Our players got experience against the top team in the country right now, so there are a lot of positives from that,” Wright said.

UCLA will return to the pool Saturday for its first matchup against No. 3 California.

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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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