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UCLA women’s water polo wins first MPSF title in 7 years

Freshman goalkeeper Lauren Steele reaches out to her right to block a shot. (Zimo Li/Daily Bruin)

Women’s Water Polo

No. 1 seed UCLA13
No. 2 seed California10

By Una O'Farrell

April 28, 2024 1:17 p.m.

This post was updated April 28 at 8:19 p.m.

The Bruins won their first conference championship since 2017.

No. 1 seed UCLA women’s water polo (23-0, 6-0 MPSF) beat No. 2 seed California (17-6, 4-2) in the MPSF tournament final at the Counsilman-Billingsley Aquatics Center in Bloomington, Indiana, on Sunday. The win marked the Bruins’ 23rd of the season and continued their undefeated streak. 

The Bruins got off to a quick start, scoring four goals in the first quarter with freshman goalkeeper Lauren Steele making eight saves, allowing the Golden Bears just one goal. 

Freshman utility Panni Szegedi assisted both senior attackers Malia Allen and Anneliese Miller to their first goals of the game, along with a 6-on-5 opportunity scored by freshman attacker Becca Melanson as the exclusion ended. 

“We did pretty good at staying composed emotionally the first quarter,” said sophomore attacker Taylor Smith. “Everyone was playing really well and filling in their role right from the start.”

In the second quarter, sophomore utility Anna Pearson found the back of the net from two meters after shooting with her head completely submerged under the water with a Cal defender pushing her down.

The first half ended with back-to-back missed Golden Bears shots after an earned exclusion by Cal center Feline Voordouw, leaving the Bruins leading 7-3. 

“It was a really balanced attack in the first half for us. Anna (Anneliese) Miller, Malia, Molly (Renner), they just put us in a really good position,” said coach Adam Wright. “And defensively, with Lauren in the goal, she takes on an incredible burden and does it well, so it was great in the first half especially.”

Cal defender Rozanne Voorvelt completed a hat trick in the third quarter, but along with two goals from teammate Maryn Dempsey in the fourth, it wasn’t enough to overcome the Bruins’ start.

Graduate student attacker Hannah Palmer responded to Voorvelt’s hat trick with a goal of her own and assisted Smith to her second goal after a timeout was called by the Bruins.

Smith said simplifying their game was the key to dealing with obstacles.

“We talked about it at the beginning of the game, just simplifying everything. As a result, there were a lot of clear solutions that we were able to execute,” Smith said. “They’re a team that’s really good at the one-on-one and simulating, but I think we did a really good job of staying calm and sticking to our way.”

After assisting Allen to complete her hat trick, sophomore utility Lily Gess lobbed in a goal of her own from the outside corner to add herself to the eight Bruins featured on the scoreboard. 

With UCLA up 11-6, the fourth quarter opened with a goal from Smith to complete her own hat trick. The fourth quarter was the only period the Bruins were outscored, despite goals from both Palmer and Smith. 

“I think we always knew that we were in control of the game, no matter what was going on in the second half,” Allen said. “Something that we do well is sticking together, and sticking with ourselves, so I think that’s what helped us get the job finished in the end.”

The matchup was a rematch of the championship game from 2011 – the last time Cal had seen the MPSF final stage – when it defeated UCLA 7-6. 

But this go around, the Bruins emerged victorious, winning the program’s 12th MPSF championship.

With the first MPSF title in his seven-year tenure as coach, Wright said the win is a proud achievement for the team. 

“It’s great because it shows when our team can do things in the right way over a sustained period of time, great things can happen,” Wright said. “They played two great games this weekend. It’s a real honor to win our conference. It’s historically the best conference in the country, but we’re motivated to keep getting better.”

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Una O'Farrell
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