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UCLA women’s water polo advances to MPSF finals with decisive victory over USC

Graduate student attacker Hannah Palmer holds the ball as she faces opponents. (Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Women’s Water Polo


No. 1 seed UCLA10
No. 4 seed USC4

By Lamar Tuker

April 27, 2024 2:53 p.m.

This post was updated April 27 at 3:49 p.m.

The Bruins advanced to the MPSF tournament final for the first time in coach Adam Wright’s seven-year tenure.

No. 1 seed UCLA women’s water polo (22-0, 6-0 MPSF) bested No. 4 seed USC (18-7, 4-2) in the MPSF tournament semifinal at the Counsilman-Billingsley Aquatics Center in Bloomington, Indiana, on Saturday. The Bruins defeated the Trojans 10-4, three times the win margin of last weekend’s Bruin win over their crosstown rivals.

During their last match against the Trojans, the Bruins failed to score in the first quarter. This time around, UCLA held the lead on the scoreboard throughout the game.

Graduate student attacker Hannah Palmer said the difference was directed by the team’s eagerness.

“It wasn’t anything that they (USC) were doing to us that made us play the way we played in the first half last week. But something we really wanted to change for this game was how we came out,” Palmer said. “And we came out really good.”

Three different Bruins scored in the first quarter, with junior attacker Molly Renner claiming the first goal for the Bruins, scoring on the 6-on-5. The Bruins added two more goals from Palmer and freshman center Dania Innis.

Senior attacker Malia Allen – who sent the ball to Innis in the center for the final goal of the quarter – had three assists while netting one goal of her own across the game. 

Palmer said the team was fueled by its centers.

“Something that our team is really blessed to have is really dominant centers, and they really open up through for us people on the outside to attack and shoot,” Palmer said. “I feel good for our centers because they’re just drawing so much tension in every game that we play.”

Freshman goalkeeper Lauren Steele blocked six shots from the Trojans in the first quarter, only allowing one.

“My teammates were doing a really good job of funneling to me and getting their blocks up so that I could stay focused on my blocks,” Steele said.

The Bruins maintained their lead in the second quarter as Palmer clinched a hat trick, her second and third goals both assisted by freshman attacker Becca Melanson. Steele raked in 10 blocks by halftime to the Trojan goalkeeper’s one.

Palmer netted two more goals in the third quarter of the match, both assisted by Allen – tying a career high with five goals on the day. 

The fourth quarter began with the Bruins up by six. After surviving three early exclusions, Steele exited the pool at 17 saves and was replaced by senior goalkeeper Sydney Chiang, who made two saves and allowed one goal.

Palmer said Steele’s performance was impressive but not unexpected.

“Beyond her talent, she’s just a great teammate to have, so I’m not surprised that she had 17 blocks today,” Palmer said. “That’s just Lauren Steele herself.”

The Bruins entered double digits with a goal from senior attacker Anneliese Miller, marking the last goal of the game, while the Trojans buried just four goals, the fewest they have scored in a game since a 9-3 loss to the Cardinal in 2018.

Palmer said the team utilized the Trojans’ stamina to its advantage.

“We have such a deeper team than they do. And so they were getting really tired, and we were really capitalizing on that,” Palmer said. “Our depth and our conditioning really showed in the second with them only scoring one goal.”

The Bruins will face No. 2 seed California on Sunday at 10:30 a.m. in the final of the MPSF tournament, with an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament on the line.

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