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UCLA women’s water polo bests No. 4 seed Stanford to secure spot in NCAA final

Freshman goalkeeper Lauren Steele reaches out to her right to block a shot. (Karla Cardenas-Felipe/Daily Bruin)

Women’s Water Polo

No. 1 seed UCLA10
No. 4 seed Stanford8

By Una O'Farrell

May 11, 2024 4:38 p.m.

This post was updated May 12 at 9:58 a.m.

BERKELEY – This season’s undefeated Bruins attempted redemption against the team that sent them home in the semifinal last year, this time with the rankings swapped.

And the Bruins found success. 

No. 1 seed UCLA women’s water polo (25-0, 6-0 MPSF ) defeated No. 4 seed Stanford (19-7, 4-2) in a 10-8 match at Spieker Aquatics Complex to secure a spot in the NCAA championship final for the first time since 2021. 

The first goal of the game came in the fourth minute off a penalty shot buried by freshman utility Panni Szegedi, after the Bruin fan base erupted in cheers in response to an earned penalty from graduate student attacker Brooke Doten. 

“It was nice. We don’t ever play to a crowd or environment,” said coach Adam Wright. “But to have that many Bruins fans in the walls here at Spieker at Cal, it was a great thing for sure.”

The game saw a slew of missed shots off the crossbar by both teams, with the Bruins and the Cardinal both entering halftime tied with 4 goals on 16 and 15 attempts, respectively. 

While freshman goalkeeper Lauren Steele led the team with 12 saves, the rest of the Bruins shared defensive responsibilities, with Doten and senior attacker Malia Allen each contributing two blocks. 

“Everyone kind of doubled down,” said sophomore attacker Taylor Smith. “We really worked on helping block – especially with Stanford, they’re always overloaded. Everyone was really locked in, really present.”

Junior utility Nicole Struss extends her arm forward toward a Stanford attacker. (Karla Cardenas-Felipe/Daily Bruin)

Six Bruins contributed to the team’s ten goals, with three recording multi-goal games. Sophomore utility Genoa Rossi scored the first of her brace on the 6-on-5 off an assist from Allen during the third quarter. 

With one second left on the shot clock, Szegedi buried a shot from 10 yards out after chasing down an errant pass to put the Bruins up 7-4.

To complete her hat trick, Szegedi converted a penalty shot drawn by sophomore utility Anna Pearson in the center in the fourth quarter. 

“She (Szegedi) has confidence in herself, you saw the shot at the buzzer,” Wright said. “Those penalties, people think they’re easy, but they’re not. To do it in that situation twice was really important for us.”

The Cardinal scored a buzzer-beater goal in the final second of the match to end the semifinal, but with the loss, missed out on securing their 13th appearance in the last 14 NCAA finals. 

“There’s no doubt that (Stanford) has been a team that has been a big problem for our program,” Wright said. “The hard work that our current players put in is paying off, and the hard work our alumni put in to change the culture is paying off.”

UCLA will face No. 3 seed California in the NCAA tournament final, competing for the chance to win its first national championship in 15 years, and the first of Wright’s tenure.

The matchup will mark the first final without Stanford or USC since the NCAA chartered the sport in 2001.

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Una O'Farrell
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