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UCLA women’s water polo 2023 MPSF tournament predictions

Sophomore attacker Emma Lineback follows the ball as it flies through the air. Lineback’s 46 goals are the most of any Bruin. (Julia Zhou/Daily Bruin)

By Felicia Keller, Joseph Crosby, Cole Lizar, and Lexi Grimes

April 26, 2023 6:34 p.m.

No. 3 seed UCLA women’s water polo is heading to San Jose for the weekend for the MPSF tournament. With a guaranteed spot at the NCAA tournament on the line, the Bruins will have to go through No. 6 seed Arizona State on Friday before they can look ahead to the semifinals and final. But before the players hit the pool, Daily Bruin Sports’ women’s water polo beat is predicting just where UCLA will end the weekend.

Cole Lizar
Daily Bruin staff
Prediction: Third place

Despite just 24 collegiate games under their belts, the large class of Bruin freshmen is playing at a very high level at the perfect time in the season.

Their play complements the way the rest of their teammates have been competing all year – like one of the best teams in the country. UCLA has suffered tough losses to in-state rivals this season, but that does not subtract from its overall performance.

Three familiar names stand in the way of UCLA’s path to both an MPSF and NCAA title this year – No. 4 seed California, No. 2 seed Stanford and No. 1 seed USC. The Bruins have the talent and experience to beat all of these teams, but they will have to be firing on all cylinders.

Both Stanford and USC have veteran talent that has proven to be lethal against UCLA this year, and Cal will not go down without a fight.

Because of the structure of the tournament, the Bruins are likely to see the Cardinal in the second round. But despite a capability to beat any of its opponents, I don’t see UCLA coming out of that matchup victorious.

This likely puts UCLA in a winnable matchup against Cal in the third-place game. Of the three teams the Bruins have lost to this season, the Golden Bears are the only team that they have also won a game against.

I know it seems almost contradictory to say UCLA can beat Stanford but predict they will lose, yet I stand by this. I believe the Bruins need to play in at least one more big game before they are ready to take down either of the country’s top two teams.

For a team that relies so heavily on young players, any postseason experience is paramount. The Bruins will use this weekend to gather experience and build momentum, then come out in the NCAA tournament and win when it matters.

Lexi Grimes
Daily Bruin reporter
Prediction: Third place

Although the Bruins have a roster stacked with talent, they cannot seem to figure out how to use it to defeat the nation’s top teams – USC and Stanford.

UCLA will begin the tournament with a game against Arizona State, whom it defeated less than a month ago by a score of 17-10. After what will likely be an easy victory, the Bruins will move on to face the winner of Stanford and No. 7 seed San Jose State, a team the Cardinal should have no trouble getting past.

Unfortunately, UCLA has struggled against top teams all season and will likely once again fall to Stanford in the semifinal match. The Cardinal are averaging 16.7 points a game this season while holding their opponents to an average of 6.7 goals.

Comparatively, the Bruins are averaging 14 goals per game and allowing their opponents to score an average of 7.5 times per match. In the matchup earlier this season between the Bruins and the Cardinal, Stanford recorded an 18-13 victory, the most points allowed by UCLA in any game this season.

If the Bruins do end up competing for third place, likely against Cal, they should be able to walk away victorious. Less than two weeks ago, UCLA recorded a 11-6 win over Cal and should be able to replicate these results.

While the Bruins have a roster full of potential, they will likely fall just short of the championship game and be forced to settle for a third-place finish.

(Amelie Ionescu/Daily Bruin senior staff)
Freshman utility Anna Pearson lunges after the ball. After scoring twice in the final game of the regular season, Pearson became the second member of the team to reach 40 goals. (Amelie Ionescu/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Felicia Keller
Daily Bruin contributor
Prediction: Second place

This Bruin team is deep. One of its biggest advantages over its competition is the ability to make nearly complete line changes compared to other teams that make substitutions one or two at a time.

While they’ve had important moments coming from the veteran core of redshirt senior goalkeeper Georgia Phillips and graduate students utility Katrina Drake, center Ava Johnson and attacker Val Ayala – who have combined for 92 goals this season – the team’s top three individual scorers are all underclassmen.

The Bruins will need big contributions from those three – sophomore attacker Emma Lineback and freshman utilities Anna Pearson and Sienna Green – against likely opponent Stanford on Saturday in order to advance to the final, assuming both the Bruins and Cardinal beat their lower-seeded opponents on Friday.

This may be my first year watching and covering water polo, but having witnessed UCLA’s contest against Stanford, I believe this Bruin team can beat the Cardinal. UCLA held its own for three-quarters of that game in March, with the score tied at the end of the third stanza before a collapse in the final six minutes left the 18-13 score looking lopsided.

However, the Bruins need to show up looking like the team that beat Cal with a 3-for-7 conversion rate on the powerplay rather than the team that converted just one six-on-five play in half a dozen opportunities against USC. The 14-9 finish against the Trojans marked the Bruins’ third loss to them on the season.

While they may not be able to win, the Bruins certainly have the tools to make it to the final of the tournament this weekend; it’s simply a matter of putting them all together at the right time.

Joseph Crosby
Assistant Sports editor
Prediction: MPSF champions

If UCLA wants to win its first MPSF title since 2017, it’s almost certainly going to have to beat one of Stanford or USC, and probably both.

The Bruins can attribute four of their five season losses to that pair of schools, with the most recent coming in a 14-9 home loss to the Trojans that looked more uneven than the score would imply.

But it’s as the saying goes: There’s a first time for everything.

UCLA’s last nine games are a seven-game winning streak sandwiched between its first loss to Stanford and third loss to USC. Phillips capped off the streak with an 18-save performance in a revenge win against Cal – earning her MPSF/Delfina Player of the Week honors – before tallying another double-digit performance against the Trojans the following week.

If Phillips plays up to her All-MPSF First Team potential and the rest of the squad rallies around her, this team is more than capable of limiting opponents’ scoring.

Felicia already noted the offensive potential of the team’s top scorers as well as the depth coming in on rotations. But I’ll go one step further and say that the sum of the team’s parts is not only enough to overcome Stanford but enough to snatch the MPSF title from the Trojans.

UCLA’s men’s team defeated USC three times in the regular season before falling to it at both the MPSF and NCAA tournaments.

If turnabout is fair play, then it seems only fitting that the Bruin women earn their first win over the Trojans this weekend.

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Felicia Keller
Keller is a 2023-2024 assistant Sports editor on the men’s soccer, swim and dive, women’s water polo, and softball beats. She was previously a contributor on the swim and dive and women’s water polo beats and a contributor in the News and Photo sections. She is also a second-year sociology student.
Keller is a 2023-2024 assistant Sports editor on the men’s soccer, swim and dive, women’s water polo, and softball beats. She was previously a contributor on the swim and dive and women’s water polo beats and a contributor in the News and Photo sections. She is also a second-year sociology student.
Joseph Crosby | Sports editor
Crosby is the 2023-2024 Sports editor on the football and men's basketball beats. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the baseball, women's golf, men's water polo and women's water polo beats and a contributor on the baseball and women's golf beats. He is also a fourth-year statistics student.
Crosby is the 2023-2024 Sports editor on the football and men's basketball beats. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the baseball, women's golf, men's water polo and women's water polo beats and a contributor on the baseball and women's golf beats. He is also a fourth-year statistics student.
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.
Lexi Grimes | Sports reporter
Grimes is currently a Sports reporter on the men's soccer beat. She was previously a contributor on the beach volleyball, men's soccer and women's volleyball beats.
Grimes is currently a Sports reporter on the men's soccer beat. She was previously a contributor on the beach volleyball, men's soccer and women's volleyball beats.
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