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UCLA women’s water polo squeaks past UC Irvine to face Stanford in NCAA semifinals

Senior utility Katrina Drake fires a shot. Drake tallied the game-winning goal for No. 4 seed UCLA women’s water polo on Friday as the blue and gold squeaked by UC Irvine. (Shengfeng Chien/Daily Bruin)

Women’s Water Polo

No. 4 seed UCLA8
UC Irvine7

By Kyle Boal

May 6, 2022 1:51 p.m.

Katrina Drake fired a shot from the left side of the pool.

Big West Tournament MVP goalkeeper Jordan Frost got both hands on the ball but couldn’t stop it from drifting into the goal with five minutes to play. 

The senior utility’s score marked the 13th lead change of the game and gave the Bruins a deciding one-goal advantage.

No. 4 seed UCLA women’s water polo (24-5, 4-2 MPSF) narrowly defeated UC Irvine (22-7, 5-1 Big West) on Friday 8-7 at Canham Natatorium in Ann Arbor, Michigan, improving to 32-0 all-time against the Anteaters behind Drake’s final-frame goal. The blue and gold will advance to face No. 1 seed Stanford in the NCAA semifinals Saturday at noon.

“We played tight, but we’re moving on,” said coach Adam Wright. “That’s what’s most important this time of year.” 

Irvine entered the game on a five-game winning streak, earning its first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2018 behind Frost’s undefeated record as a starter.

Winning all four sprints in the contest, redshirt senior attacker Maddie Musselman took the opening sprint and found Ava Johnson. The senior center quickly dished it to sophomore attacker Malia Allen, who drove from the right side to place the ball in the goal. It was the Bruins’ first opening-possession goal in two months. 

UCLA committed its first of 10 total turnovers in the contest shortly after, allowing Irvine to secure a fast break and knot the game at one with a six-on-four goal. 

Despite entering the contest averaging 43% on the power play this season, the Bruins mustered four successful attempts in 15 tries. Drake scored her first of three goals to give UCLA a 2-1 advantage heading into the second frame. 

For the third time this season, the Bruins failed to score in the second quarter, allowing three Anteater goals to enter halftime trailing 4-2. Wright said he told his team to relax after the first 16 minutes of play. 

“We talked about settling in even at the half, even after the first quarter,” Wright said. “We showed spurts in that third quarter where we settled in and played our style and we go on runs.”

UCLA wasted no time out of the break, scoring on the first possession as Musselman connected with junior utility Abbi Hill to bring the game back within one. Minutes later, senior attacker Val Ayala tied the game at four after the Bruins grabbed multiple rebounds on the possession. 

The two teams traded goals over the next four minutes. Drake and sophomore attacker Malia Allen each scored for the Bruins but were met with Anteater goals the following possession both times. 

In the same spot of the pool where she became UCLA’s all-time leading scorer earlier this season against Irvine, Musselman skipped a power-play shot into the goal after multiple fakes to take a 7-6 lead. 

Instead of taking the one-goal lead into the final quarter, however, the Bruins allowed a lob shot from midpool to find its way over multiple defenders and redshirt junior goalkeeper Georgia Phillips to tie the game at seven as the buzzer sounded. Drake’s fourth-quarter goal was the only score of the final frame.

The senior attacker said the team was focused on the future, not the past, after falling behind early. 

“Something that we work on a lot is just staying present – focusing on whatever’s happening in front of us,” Drake said. “We can’t change the past, so seeing everyone respond with either a smile or a fist pump – just looking around and seeing the energy that we have and the trust within each other – is definitely promising.” 

Irvine made multiple attempts to tie the game in the waning moments, but Phillips racked in five saves in the final period to reach 12 total saves on the afternoon. 

The Bruins will now have one night to rest before taking the pool against the top-seeded Cardinal, who defeated Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champion Wagner 16-6 to advance. UCLA is 0-3 this season against Stanford and 2-10 overall under Wright. 

Wright said his team will have to beat the best to be the best. 

“We’ve obviously played them three times, but we’ve been really hoping to have one more shot with them,” Wright said. “We know they’re the best team in the country, but we got nothing to lose and we get a chance tomorrow.”

First sprint of the NCAA semifinal contest is at noon.

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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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