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Women’s water polo to kick off NCAA tournament run with matchup against UC Irvine

Redshirt senior attacker Maddie Musselman and No. 4 seed UCLA women’s water polo will kick off their 2022 NCAA tournament run with a matchup against UC Irvine on Friday. (Anya Yakimenko/Daily Bruin)

Women's Water Polo

UC Irvine
Friday, 11 a.m.

Canham Natatorium

By Cole Lizar

May 5, 2022 1:22 p.m.

The Bruins will have a chance to make history this weekend.

No. 4 seed UCLA women’s water polo (23-5, 4-2 MPSF) will compete in the NCAA tournament beginning Friday at the Canham Natatorium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Starting with a quarterfinals matchup against UC Irvine (22-6, 5-1 Big West), the blue and gold enter the weekend with the chance to win its eighth NCAA championship – which would be the most of any Division I program.

“This opportunity (to compete in the NCAA tournament) in and of itself is really special,” said redshirt senior attacker Maddie Musselman. “We wouldn’t be here without all the work that we put in.”

Three teams are seeded higher than UCLA – No. 1 seed Stanford, No. 2 seed USC and No. 3 seed California. The Bruins have lost all three contests against the Cardinal this year and have split the series with both the Trojans and Golden Bears.

But before a potential matchup with its conference foes, UCLA will face Irvine. The Bruins have never lost to the Anteaters, and in their only matchup this year, the blue and gold won 14-8.

Freshman attacker Emma Lineback said her veteran teammates have helped her prepare for her first NCAA tournament.

“The girls on the team said to treat this (tournament) the same as any other,” Lineback said. “It’s the same game I’ve been playing since I was 10 years old.”

With a win in the quarterfinals, the Bruins will have a shot at redemption against the team they have struggled with the most in recent history. Under the direction of coach Adam Wright, UCLA has gone 2-10 against Stanford.

In their first two contests against the Cardinal this season, the Bruins managed to finish within three goals of their opponent but fell by six goals in their matchup in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament semifinals.

Despite her team’s opportunity at redemption in the semifinals, Musselman said she is only focused on the task at hand.

“We have to take this one step at a time,” Musselman said. “It’s about UCI, that’s the biggest game for us right now.”

The Bruins have struggled to find the back of the net on power-play opportunities in their past two contests, shooting a combined 6-of-23 over the two games on the six-on-five.

Wright said his team has been focusing on its six-on-five game on both ends of the pool in preparation for the postseason.

“Our five-on-six is something that we’re much better at overall,” Wright said. “We do a good job supporting our goalies and putting them in a position to be worried about taking the blocks that they’re supposed to take.”

The Bruins are currently tied with the Cardinal for the most NCAA championships at seven apiece. Either team could emerge as the sole leader in championships by winning an eighth this weekend, though UCLA has not won since 2009.

With history potentially on the line, Musselman said she told her younger teammates to have confidence in themselves this weekend.

“Go into it with the confidence that you’ve prepared as much as possible,” Musselman said. “It’s about going out there and playing in the moment and trusting that you’ve done everything to put yourself in the best position to be successful.”

UCLA will play Irvine on Friday at 11 a.m to kick off its NCAA tournament run.

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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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