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Coach Adam Wright secures 100th victory with UCLA women’s water polo program

Senior center Ava Johnson tallied one goal, two steals and five drawn exclusions in No. 2 UCLA women’s water polo’s win over No. 4 California on Saturday. The victory put coach Adam Wright at 100 wins in his career with the women’s program. (Jeremy Chen/Daily Bruin staff)

Women's Water Polo

No. 2 UCLA9
No. 4 California8
No. 2 UCLA17
No. 17 Pacific8

By Ricardo Garcia

March 7, 2022 1:39 p.m.

With the game on the line, redshirt junior goalkeeper Georgia Phillips made a stop on a Golden Bear power play.

However, the Bruins lost control of the rebound, necessitating one final defensive stand.

Junior attacker Hannah Palmer stepped up to the task, helping the blue and gold avert disaster with one final field block to secure the victory and earn coach Adam Wright a career milestone.

No. 2 UCLA women’s water polo (20-1, 3-0 MPSF) survived an upset scare from No. 4 California (11-2, 0-2) with a 9-8 win Saturday in Berkeley before beating No. 17 Pacific (3-8) in Stockton 17-8 on Sunday to cap off a road trip in Northern California. Saturday’s victory marked Wright’s 100th win with the women’s program.

The weekend began with the worst shooting performance of the season for the Bruins as they converted on 25.7% of their shots from the field against the Golden Bears after shooting 26.5% in their loss to Stanford last weekend.

“It’s important to be able to find a way to win when you’re not at your best,” Wright said. “We’re making, in certain situations, our lives much more difficult than they need to be. Those are things we have to continue to work on.”

UCLA was stifled for most of the game by Cal goalkeeper Isabel Williams, who picked up 18 saves in the cage. Williams entered the game second in the conference in save percentage and goals-against average.

Senior center Ava Johnson said the team was timid in its offensive approach during the game.

“No matter who’s in the goal, we should be able to get them up and get them thinking about where we’re going to shoot the ball,” Johnson said. “It all comes down to our approach and how confident we are in shooting.”

Despite Williams’ performance, it was Phillips – the MPSF leader in save percentage and goals-against average – who walked away with the win after stopping 14 shots.

Redshirt senior attacker Maddie Musselman said it was admirable to see how Phillips’ confidence in her teammates has grown.

“It’s great for our defense to know that she can trust the people in front of her,” Musselman said. “It helps her be able to do her job really well when she’s able to communicate and when she’s able to move and trust the way we’re playing on defense.”

Musselman led all scorers against the Golden Bears with four goals and two assists, including the feed on junior utility Abbi Hill’s game-winning goal with a minute left.

After scoring fewer than 10 goals for the third time this season Saturday, the Bruins’ offense produced 17 goals in their victory over the Tigers on Sunday.

Despite amassing five power-play goals on 24 combined shot attempts in its previous two games, UCLA needed nine attempts Sunday to get eight goals past goalkeeper Clara Vulpisi in six-on-five situations.

“We were really focusing on how we can capitalize from the first pass to finish,” Johnson said. “After the exclusion, when they were scattered and tried to set up, we were going to have opportunities to score right away.”

Thirteen different Bruins scored at least once against the Tigers, led by a pair of hat tricks from Musselman and freshman attacker Emma Lineback.

Musselman said the game served as an opportunity for everyone to make a difference.

“It doesn’t matter who scores,” Musselman said. “You’re going to have an opportunity to be in front of the cage, and how you want to approach that is up to you.”

UCLA will begin a 56-day stretch in Southern California until the NCAA tournament, starting off with a matchup against No. 6 UC Irvine on Friday at Spieker Aquatics Center.

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Ricardo Garcia | Sports reporter
Garcia is currently a reporter on the women's water polo beat. He was previously a contributor on the swim & dive, track & field and men's water polo beats.
Garcia is currently a reporter on the women's water polo beat. He was previously a contributor on the swim & dive, track & field and men's water polo beats.
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