2019 NCAA Women’s Water Polo Final Four Set: USC vs. Cal; Stanford vs. UCLA

Cal's Emma Wright had a huge game Friday against Hawai'i; how will she fare against #1 USC in today's semifinal? Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

Editor’s Note: The 2019 NCAA Women’s Water Polo Tournament is happening this week—and Swimming World has you covered! Keep up with all the action online or look for #SwimmingWorld on Twitter and other social media platforms.

2019-ncaa-wwp-logo-apr19STANFORD, CA. After yesterday’s quarterfinal matches, the field is now set for the semifinals of the 2019 NCAA Women’s Water Polo Tournament, being held at Stanford’s Avery Aquatic Center. At 3 p.m. (PST) #1 USC will face #4 California. At 5 p.m (PST) #2 Stanford will face #3 UCLA. All matches are available for streaming on the Stanford website.

It should come are no surprise that the nation’s top four squads—all members of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation—advanced to  the tournament’s penultimate day, where the two finalists for the national championship, to be played at 3 p.m. (PST) on Sunday, will be decided.

Semifinal Match One: #1 USC (27-1) versus #4 California (17-8)

The Trojans and Golden Bears have met twice this season, with USC winning both. In fact, Cal has not beaten the defending NCAA champions in the past 19 contests.

USC Keys to Victory: Interim Head Coach Casey Moon has three of the world’s best players—strikers Paige Hauschild and Maud Megens and goalie Amanda Longan—on his roster. If they are all in the water at the same time, along with talents Alejandra Aznar, Denise Mammolito, Kelsey McIntosh and Bayley Weber, it’s virtually impossible to beat the Trojans. Over the past two years USC has suffered two losses—both to Stanford.

Cal Keys to Victory: Against Hawai’i, Cal Head Coach Coralie Simmons featured an up-tempo offense, with her players shooting early and often (38 attempts, 17 goals)—led by lefty Emma Wright, who connected on four of her five shots. This high risk-low reward approach may prove fatal against a Trojan squad that features eight players with twenty or more goals, led by Maud Megens’ 65 goals. Simmons will likely slow the game down and look to set up All-American goalie Madison Tagg as the center point of the Golden defense. It could work; USC fought off Cal earlier this year at the Barbara Kalbus Invitational last February, emerging with a 9-8 win.

Swimming World’s Pick: USC. The Trojan are on a mission to flatten all who oppose them (okay, this is not new) but they likely want to prove that they can overcome any and all obstacles, including the firing of long-time coach Jovan Vavic earlier in the season.

The Cardinal plays defense in front of Thea Walsh yesterday against Pacific. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

Semifinal Match Two: #2 Stanford (21-2) vs. #3 UCLA (24-6)

The Cardinal and the Bruins have also met twice this season, with Stanford winning both times. This is a storied rivalry that has become decidedly one-sided that past three years; not only has Stanford won fight straight, they won national championships finals over UCLA in 2014, 2015 and 2017.

Stanford Keys to Victory: This is a tricky match-up for the home team, though facing arch-rival Cal in NCAAs could also be challenging to a Cardinal squad which has the conference’s best offensive weapon in Makenzie Fischer. In a February meeting the Bruins fell behind by five goals and never recovered, losing 10-4. Last month UCLA fell behind by four scores early but rallied in the second half as Stanford held on for a 7-6 win. If Fischer and her sister Aria (nine-straight multi-goal games) get support from reliable offensive contributors Kat and Sarah Klass, Madison Berggen and newcomer Ryann Neushul, it will be very difficult to prevent the Cardinal from advancing to a tenth-straight NCAA final.

UCLA Keys to Victory: First is to avoid getting down big early to the home team. Second, the Bruins have to hope that senior goalie Carlee Kapana—who was a freshman on the squad when they lost a heart-breaking final to Stanford in 2017—comes up big. There’s a possibility that the vaunted UCLA defense can come up big BUT it’s a tall order to stop all the Cardinal offensive weapons. Stanford goalie Emalia Eichelberger is good—but Kapana is better, and if it comes down to goalie play, then the Bruins have a shot at the upset. That, and big games from Maddie Musselman and Liz Rozeboom.

Swimming World’s Pick: Stanford. It’s just too much to expect a young Bruin team—that has made great strides this season—to upset a deep and experienced Cardinal team in their home pool. Beside, a USC versus Stanford final is the outcome that everyone besides Cal and UCLA fans expect.