LOS ALAMITOS, Cal., May 1. TOP-ranked and undefeated USC (26-0) thwarted a valiant comeback by underdog Cal State Long Beach women's water polo team to win its Mountain Pacific Sports Federation semifinal match, 8-5, this afternoon.
The victory puts the Trojans into the finals this evening against 2002 NCAA champ Stanford, which edged defending national champ UCLA, 3-2, in the other semi match.
THE MPSF tournament is taking place at the Joint Forces Training Base here, home to United States Water Polo's national women's and men's teams. The MPSF champion will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Final Four, slated for May 15-16 at Stanford's Avery Aquatic Center, site of last year's men's NCAA Championship, won by USC over Stanford — stopping the Cardinal's two-year reign as champs.
UCLA and Long Beach will play off for third place at 5 PM PDT today, followed by the championship game at 6:15 PM.
USC has never won the MPSF women's title nor has it made the NCAA Final Four since women's water polo became an official collegiate championship sport three years ago. The Women of Troy, however, did win an unofficial collegiate championship in the late 1990s.
Stanford is defending MPSF champ but lost NCAAs last year to UCLA. The Cardinal beat the Bruins for the title a year earlier at USC's McDonald's Olympic Swim Stadium but bowed to the Bruins in the inaugural NCAA Final Four at Avery in May of '01.
Even if Stanford loses,the Cardinal will likely receive an NCAA at-large berth for the Final Four. UCLA lost to the Cardinal in last year's MPSF finals, but was given the at-large berth and proceeded to win the championship.
UCLA and Stanford are the only schools to have won both women's and men's NCAA polo titles in the same year and, of course, were SC to win as its men's team did last December, it will join this select club.
UCLA's Adam Krikorian, who guides both the women's and men's teams, saw his men defeat Stanford in December of '00 and then guided his women's team to a win over the Cardinal the following spring at Stanford. The Cardinal returned the favor the following year and were expected to repeat again last season but the Bruins pulled off a major upset to earn the crown.
By winning the men's title last December, USC became the first school ever to win polo and football national titles in the same season.
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Long Beach took a 1-0 lead against USC with a goal at 4:07 in the first quarter. Shut out for the opening quarter, USC finally got on the scoreboard at 4:22 in the second quarter on a goal by Liz Simms. The Trojans would then tally two more in the quarter off goalie Ally Barr to take a 3-1 halftime lead.
USC pushed the advantage to 6-2 after Brittany Hayes' second goal of the game at 5:27 before LBSU fought back. Garcia's second goal of the day came at 4:27 in the fourth and Robyn Gordin found the back of the net with 3:10 on the clock to cut the deficit to 6-4.
USC answered though, as Jana Wenger scored at 2:09 and Marna Mayer converted a four-meter goal at 1:10 to give the Women of Troy an 8-4 lead. Alison Braden scored the 49ers' final goal of the day with 0:37 on the clock.
USC goalie Kelly Graff finished with eight goalie saves on the day.
The 49ers will be in action at 5 pm on Sunday when they play UCLA in the third place game. This will be the third consecutive season the 49ers will be playing in the third place contest.
TEAMS 1 2 3 4 F
#5 LBSU 1-0-1-3- 5 (21-8)
#1 USC 0-3-2-3- 8 (26-0)
LBSU GOALS: Garcia (2), Campbell, Gordin, Braden
USC GOALS: Hayes (2), Gyori (2), Simms, Madrid, Wenger, Mayer
Goalie Saves: Hawkins-LBSU 1 (GAA: 1); Barr-LBSU 3 (GAA: 7); Graff-USC 8
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UCLA's match with Stanford was a close affair throughout. After a scoreless first period, Stanford jumped ahead 2-0 with two goals in the second period. However, UCLA (21-5) would answer back in the third period with goals by Kristina Kunkel and Molly Cahill.
The game would be tied 2-2 going into the fourth period and after nearly six scoreless minutes a goal by Stanford with 1:01 remaining would give the Cardinal the 3-2 lead. UCLA would manage to draw a 6 on 5 with thirty seconds left and after failing to convert, would get the ball back with just under six seconds remaining because of a Stanford tip. But, Kristina Kunkel's shot with three seconds left sailed high, giving Stanford the victory.
UCLA vs. Stanford
Teams 1 2 3 4 F
UCLA 0-0-2-0 2
Stanford 2-0-0-1 3
Goals: UCLA – Kristina Kunkel, Lauren Heineck; Stanford – Wendy Watkins, Nancy El-Sakkary, Katie Hansen
Saves: UCLA – Emily Feher 7; Stanford – Meredith McColl 4