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UCLA women’s water polo falls to Stanford in 1st conference loss of season

Senior attacker Val Ayala posted two goals and an assist Saturday, but No. 2 UCLA women’s water polo couldn’t overcome No. 1 Stanford, falling to its Mountain Pacific Sports Federation rival for the second time this season. (August Suchecki/Daily Bruin)

Women's Water Polo


No. 1 Stanford11
No. 2 UCLA9

By Kyle Boal

March 27, 2022 2:39 p.m.

This post was updated March 28 at 12:47 a.m.

The Bruins failed to capitalize on a chance to avenge their sole loss of the season.

No. 2 UCLA women’s water polo (21-2, 3-1 MPSF) suffered its first conference defeat and second loss of the season to No. 1 Stanford (14-1, 2-0) at Spieker Aquatics Center 11-9 on Saturday. The Cardinal – who also defeated the blue and gold in the Barbara Kalbus Invitational on Feb. 27 – are the only program in the NCAA with a winning record all-time against the Bruins since 1996.

“During the week, we couldn’t keep our focus because we build this thing up different than any other game,” said coach Adam Wright. “We talk about how we approach every game the same and we don’t treat any opponent differently, but that hasn’t sunk in.”

Despite UCLA trailing after each of the first three quarters, back-to-back goals from freshman attacker Emma Lineback and senior attacker Val Ayala to start the final period tied the game at eight apiece.

After a double exclusion led to a five-on-five Stanford goal, the Cardinal quickly scored again to take a multi-goal advantage at the midway point of the fourth frame.

Following a timeout, junior attacker Hannah Palmer lobbed a pass to junior utility Abbi Hill, who threaded the needle for a goal. Stanford then scored again with just over two minutes to play in what would be the final score of the contest.

Coming out of a timeout with UCLA having a chance at a final possession, redshirt senior attacker Maddie Musselman wore the 1A goalkeeper cap to lead the Bruins on a 7-on-6. During the possession, senior utility Katrina Drake drew an exclusion to create a 7-on-5 opportunity that the blue and gold failed to convert on.

“The games are never over – there was still 21 seconds left when I took the last timeout. We know we need to go quick,” Wright said. “And we don’t shoot the ball. This is impossible. For me, this is a concern.”

The contest featured six lead changes and five ties. Musselman helped give the Bruins the first goal of the game with a cross-pool pass to freshman attacker Molly Renner, who snuck the ball behind the Cardinal goalkeeper.

All three first-quarter Stanford goals came after a UCLA turnover or penalty, including two within the final minute of the frame.

With the two teams tied at four midway through the second quarter, senior center Ava Johnson – who drew eight exclusions in the contest – earned a penalty shot that gave the Bruins a chance to take the lead.

Musselman missed the shot high, and the Cardinal would score back-to-back goals.

“You can’t have that, that’s the mental break,” Wright said. “You can’t go from having a penalty situation to giving up two goals – it can’t happen. That’s mental, that’s not physical.”

Despite the loss, UCLA gave up fewer exclusions and penalty shots and improved its shooting and power play percentage from its first meeting against Stanford this season.

Ayala – the team’s goal leader against the Cardinal this season – said the Bruins accomplished their game plan but had too many costly blunders.

“We controlled the game like we did the last time,” Ayala said. “But unfortunately, our mistakes, which we tried to limit, honestly just handed them the goals on the other end of the pool.”

Hill and Renner joined Ayala in leading UCLA in points Saturday, each registering two goals and an assist. Redshirt junior goalkeeper Georgia Phillips hauled in seven saves.

Renner said her team’s postgame discussion helped highlight the areas the Bruins can improve on to ensure a victory should they match up with the Cardinal again.

“We were prepared for the game, we kind of just didn’t execute as well as we would like,” Renner said. “That meeting we just had really cleared our heads on what we need to do better next time, and we’re not going to let them win next time.”

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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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