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UCLA women’s water polo NCAA tournament predictions 2023

Members of UCLA women’s water polo high five during a game at the MPSF tournament. (Brandon Morquecho/Daily Bruin)

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

May 10, 2023 6:35 p.m.

After a fourth-place finish at the MPSF tournament two weeks ago, No. 4 seed UCLA women’s water polo (20-7, 4-2 MPSF) earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. With the program’s first title since 2009 in their line of sight, the Bruins will have to get past UC Irvine (20-6, 7-0 Big West) on Friday to start their championship run. See if the women’s water polo beat thinks UCLA will turn up empty-handed or claim the school’s 122nd title.

Cole Lizar
Daily Bruin staff
Prediction: NCAA champions

With a dash of hard work, a sprinkle of luck and a little bit of magic, I think the Bruins can win it all this year.

I’m optimistic, but not confident, in UCLA’s ability to take home the hardware. It may not be the best team in the country this year, but at the same time, it doesn’t have to be.

The Bruins may be entering the tournament as the four seed, but in a single-elimination format, they have a better chance of progressing as an underdog than they would in a playoff series.

UCLA’s team is coming together at the best time in the season. The seven freshmen on the roster have had ample time to build chemistry with the rest of the team and acclimate to playing at the collegiate level.

The Bruins did not emerge victorious in the MPSF championship, but the initial postseason tournament is not as great a NCAA title predictor as one would think. Of seven total NCAA championships clinched by UCLA, only three were preceded by titles in the conference tournament.

Three games stand between UCLA and championship No. 122. A first-round game against Irvine, followed by likely matchups against No. 1 seed Stanford and No. 2 seed USC.

In the latter two games, the Bruins will enter as underdogs.

They might get lucky and catch the teams on off nights. If presented with this opportunity, UCLA can use its experience from this season to capitalize on the situation and pull out a couple of unlikely wins and a title along the way.


Lexi Grimes
Daily Bruin reporter
Prediction: Semifinals loss

The Bruins have been unable to beat the Cardinal this season, and the upcoming NCAA tournament will not end any differently.

Two weeks ago, UCLA had a chance to beat Stanford for the first time this season and move on to the MPSF championship game. Instead, it lost 11-9, and then went on to lose to No. 3 seed California by a score of 12-11 in the third place game the very next day.

The Bruins had seven different players score in the matchup against the Cardinal, including a hat trick from freshman utility Anna Pearson. However, even redshirt senior goalkeeper Georgia Phillips’ 10 saves could not stop Stanford.

UCLA will have to find some way to stop driver Jewel Roemer, who had multiple goals in all three games the Cardinal played in during the tournament.

The Bruins will begin the NCAA tournament with a matchup against Irvine on Friday. The two teams already met up this season in early February, with UCLA recording a 12-9 win over the Anteaters. This next contest should be no different, and the Bruins should be able to begin their tournament with a solid victory.

However, UCLA will likely be unable to defeat Stanford, who is coming off of an MPSF tournament championship. The Cardinal has already defeated the Bruins twice this season, and while the more recent loss is certainly an improvement from the 18-13 home defeat UCLA suffered in early March, it is doubtful that the Bruins will be able to pull off the upset in the NCAA tournament.

(Brandon Morquecho/Daily Bruin)
Sophomore attacker Emma Lineback stares down a defender while gearing up for a shot. Lineback leads UCLA with 49 goals. (Brandon Morquecho/Daily Bruin)

Felicia Keller
Daily Bruin reporter
Prediction: Semifinals loss

Last year, UCLA beat Irvine, then promptly lost to Stanford the next day to bounce out of the NCAA tournament. I’m predicting the same downfall for the Bruins this year, as they again face off against Irvine before likely meeting Stanford once more.

Irvine has experienced a meteoric rise this season, which currently has them tied for third nationally with Cal. They spent much of the first half of the season – including when UCLA beat them back in February – in sixth place, until beating Hawaiʻi in the pair’s second meeting of the season in April.

Irvine has now positioned themselves as the No. 3 team in the country with two victories over Hawaiʻi despite the strange way they earned it, but I still believe UCLA has the pieces to win in the first round .

For one, the Bruins and Anteaters have faced off 33 times, and the former have emerged victorious every single time. Additionally, the Bruins have only ever lost their first game of the NCAA tournament once in their history, a 5-4 result against LMU back in 2010, when they finished fifth in a consolation match that was eliminated after the 2013 season.

The task will be incredibly more difficult against Stanford, as the Cardinal has lost just one game all season, and it’s been two years since the Bruins managed to beat them. The Cardinal are the favorites to win the championship this year, after beating USC 12-7 to win the MPSF tournament, where the Bruins finished fourth.

A loss to Irvine would be a rough finish for UCLA while losing to Stanford would sting, but given their performance in consolation matches against Cal this year, it’s exactly the right place for this young team to end up. This freshman core will shine in future years, but it isn’t their time just yet.

Joseph Crosby
Assistant Sports editor
Prediction: NCAA runners-up

They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome.

I’m not insane enough to say UCLA will win the whole thing this year.

But I think I’ve got just the right level of crazy to say the Bruins will at least make it to the championship game.

This UCLA roster is deep. Coach Adam Wright is both willing and able to make entire line changes at once, swapping out his six starters for a new set that performs just as well.

However, despite a roster chock full of talent, the Bruins’ biggest challenge this year has been consistency. Sure, they can consistently beat the teams they’re supposed to, and will continue to do so in the opening round against Irvine. But they haven’t been able to play a consistent four quarters to beat the best of the best.

In UCLA’s first contest with Stanford in March, the two teams were tied through three quarters before the Bruins were outscored 6-1 in the final stanza. In the MPSF semifinals against the Cardinal, the story was the same. UCLA led after the first quarter and scored the same number of goals as Stanford in the second half, but a 4-1 second stanza in its opponent’s favor proved the difference maker.

For six out of eight quarters this season, UCLA has been just as good – if not better – than the nation’s top team. So come Saturday, all the Bruins need is a flash in the pan of four great quarters, and they can come out on top and earn a championship berth.

Does that mean they’ll be able to beat likely opponent USC and bring home the first NCAA title since 2009? Probably not, seeing as the Trojans have outright dominated the Bruins in all three of their contests this year.

But that’s Sunday’s bridge to cross, and I’m betting UCLA would rather have another matchup to prepare for than head home early.

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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, men's basketball and NIL 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, men's basketball and NIL 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.
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.
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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