PALO ALTO, CA., May 13. IN November of 1969, UCLA won the inaugural men's NCAA water polo championship at Long Beach's Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool. Thirty-two years later and 500 miles north, the Bruins book-ended that title with a heart-stopping 5-4 triumph over previously undefeated and top-ranked Stanford, 5-4, in the inaugural NCAA women's water polo championship here today.
The win for the Bruins stopped a streak of four consecutive losses to the Cardinal this season, including, most recently, in the finals of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Championship in Honoluu exactly two weeks ago.
Before an overflow crowd of 2000-plus rabid fans at Stanford's new megabuck Avery Aquatic Center, UCLA Olympic team member Coralie Simmons rifled in her second goal of the afternoon with 1:28 remaining to give the ladies from Westwood the title. For her stellar play Simmons was named the tournament's most valuable player.
UCLA ended its seaso with a 19-4 record while Stanford wound up 27-1. UCLA actually has won four of the past five national collegiate women's polo championships, including a 11-4 thumping of crosstown USC last season, but this was the first year the tournament was held under NCAA auspices.
And similar to the men's inaugural championship 32 years ago, UCLA's women made sure that they too would have their names engraved on the first-ever trophy.
UCLA got to the finals with an 11-1 romp over Loyola-Marymount in the semis on Saturday while Stanford breezed past Brown, 12-zip, to set up the fifth meeting between these two intra-state rivals.
"All year no one gave us a shot at the title, not the media, not the other programs," said UCLA coach Adam Krikorian, who also guided the Bruin men to the NCAA crown last December. "We knew if we improved our power play we had a shot."
Added Simmons: "It ain't over until it's over. All we heard this season was 'Stanford, this, Stanford that.' They are a very good team, the best we've played all year, but we felt that after they beat us two weeks ago (MPSF finals) if we could just get another shot at them we could win."
Krikorian said that it was always the power play which was the main factor in UCLA's four-consecutive losses — their only losses — to Stanford this season.
"After every loss we went back to the stats and saw the main reason they beat us was our six-on-five. We knew that would be the key."
The coach was right on target as the first five goals of the game were all off power plays. Stanford went up 1-zip on a six-on-five situation in the first quarter, then UCLA came back with two power play goals on its own by soph Ashley Stachowski and senior Simmons to give the Bruins a 2-1 lead after one period.
UCLA got another goal from soph Robin Beauregard and led at halftime, 3-2.
In the third quarter, Stanford came back to tie the match at 3-3 with just over a minute remaining, then UCLA's Kelly Heuchan's first goal of the day with five seconds left in the period pushed UCLA ahead, 4-3.
Stanford came back to score on a six-on-five power play with 3:27 remaining to tie the score at four. However, Stanford allowed a costly turnover with two minutes left and UCLA's two Olympians, Beauregard and Simmons, found themselves all alone on a breakaway. Beauregard passed to Simmons and the Olympic silver medalist was suddenly all alone against the nation's No. 1 goalie, Jackie Frank.
Following some nice faking that allowed her to avoid the quickly approaching Cardinal defense, Simmons slammed the ball into the back of the net, then thew her arms into the sky in jubilation as a crowd of blue-wigged Bruin supporters cheered lustily.
"I kind of surprised myself. Jackie put up a great fight, but I had to score," Simmons smiled.
Stanford called time with 22 seconds remaining but the effort proved futile as they were unable to penetrate a determined bunch of Bruin defenders. And as Krikorian was dragged "kicking and screaming" into the pool the Stanford band struck up a funeral march.
– Bill Bell
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