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No. 1 seed Stanford sinks UCLA women’s water polo’s NCAA title hopes

Members of No. 4 seed UCLA women’s water polo stand on the pool deck. The blue and gold bowed out of the NCAA tournament in the semifinals Saturday with a loss to No. 1 seed Stanford. The Bruins have gone 0-4 against the Cardinal in 2022. (Joseph Jimenez/Daily Bruin)

Women’s Water Polo

No. 4 seed UCLA7
No. 1 seed Stanford 10

By Ricardo Garcia

May 7, 2022 2:23 p.m.

This post was updated May 8 at 10:54 p.m.

For the 12th season in a row, the Bruins are coming home empty-handed.

No. 4 seed UCLA women’s water polo (24-6, 4-2 MPSF) was knocked out of the NCAA tournament in the semifinals by No. 1 seed Stanford (24-2, 5-1) by a score of 10-7 on Saturday afternoon, ending the blue and gold’s quest for its first national championship since 2009. For the fourth time this season in four attempts, the Bruins failed to overcome the Cardinal.

The fourth straight loss against Stanford marks the first time UCLA has lost to the same opponent four times in a single season since 2018, when it dropped all of its meetings against USC. 

“I don’t think them (Stanford), as a team, specifically makes it any more difficult,” said redshirt junior goalkeeper Georgia Phillips. “Sometimes in a high-pressure situation, we can get in our own heads, but I don’t think we let that affect us.”

In a low-scoring first quarter, the Bruins and Cardinal both struggled to find consistency on offense. UCLA shot 1-of-9 from the field, while Stanford scored twice but committed five turnovers in the period. 

The offense started to pick up after the first frame, as the teams traded three goals apiece in the second quarter.

Following a scoreless three minutes to start the second half, sophomore attacker Malia Allen found the equalizer to knot the score at 5-5 after the Bruins had trailed for the entire game. 

“I told the girls at the half, … we haven’t even really settled in yet,” said coach Adam Wright. “Some of our six-on-fives we have scripted, and we’re not doing them because we’re so caught up within the speed of the game.”

The tie was short-lived, however, as driver Ryann Neushul gave the Cardinal the lead two minutes later. With less than a minute left in the third period, driver Jewel Roemer’s first goal of the tournament extended the lead back up to two. 

After junior utility Abbi Hill cut the lead to one less than 30 seconds into the fourth quarter, driver Makenzie Fischer scored the next two goals to push the Cardinal lead to three, their largest of the game. 

Redshirt senior attacker Maddie Musselman was held to one shot attempt by the Stanford defense, the second time the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Player of the Year failed to score against the Cardinal in the past two weeks. Musselman shot a combined 3-of-14 in four meetings against Stanford this season.

Phillips, the MPSF leader in saves, tallied a game-high eight saves – including a pair of penalty-shot stops – for the Bruins, but the performance was not enough to stave off elimination.

The blue and gold shot 7-of-29 from the field and 3-of-12 on the power play, similar to its 7-of-26 and 2-of-14 outputs from its previous matchup with the Cardinal in the MPSF tournament semifinals.

“You can be nervous, but you can still execute,” Wright said. “No doubt, we put them in a tough spot at certain points. It just got away from us.”

With UCLA’s season coming to an end, Stanford and the winner of No. 2 seed USC and No. 3 seed California will play for the national title Sunday. 

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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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