NCAA Women’s Water Polo Season: Winners and Losers

Photo Courtesy: Loyola Marymount Athletics

It’s the gap week before NCAAs; only nine collegiate women’s water polo teams will continue their seasons next weekend at Cal’s Spieker Aquatics Complex. Those teams either won one of six conference tournaments or captured the three at-large berths put out by the NCAA selectors. 

To examine the success—or failure—of the nation’s top teams, the latest Collegiate Water Polo Association Varsity Women’s Poll is a handy yardstick.

CWPA Week 15 Women’s Varsity Poll

For those fortunate nine at least one match remains in 2024. For the rest, as was said of the hard-luck Brooklyn Dodgers, it’s, “Wait ‘til next year.”

1) UCLA (23-0; 6-0 MPSF); For the first time in seven seasons the Bruins captured the MPSF crown. Now it’s on to bigger things; UCLA last won NCAAs in 2009—when Adam Krikorian was the coach. After a dominant season—only the 2008 women’s squad, also coached by Krikorian, completed their season undefeated—the Bruins get the winner of Biola vs. Wagner in the NCAA quarterfinals on May 10. 

2) Hawai’i (22-3; 7-0 Big West); There was no drama at The Big West Championship as the Rainbow Wahine cruised to a title and their fifth NCAA berth. It’s bittersweet because Maureen Cole, long-time Hawai’i coach, is retiring after this season. What better way to say goodbye than with a title? The Wahine open against Princeton, also on May 10.

[With Curtain Set to Drop on Coaching Career, Maureen Cole Leading Hawaii in Chase of NCAA Water Polo Crown]

3) Cal (17-6; 4-2 MPSF); There’s only one other team besides UCLA (twice) to beat Hawai’i this season–Cal. The Golden Bears and the Wahine split their two matches in 2024, and the second one, at Spieker, saw Cal build a big lead then hold off a Hawai’i rally. Cal opens against Fresno State—no easy match-up!—on May 10 If the Golden Bears win they face the winner of Princeton vs. Hawai’i.

4) Stanford (18-6; 4-2 MPSF); Stanford draws USC in the NCAA quarterfinals; this is the earliest that the Trojans and Cardinal have ever faced each other in NCAAs. Over the past decade, the two teams met in the finals six times (three wins by each), two semifinals (both Stanford wins) and two times they missed each other. The Cardinal won all three matches this season; can they make it a quartet in Berkeley?

5) USC (18-8; 4-2 MPSF); The last time the Trojans lost two straight in a season? 2015 They’ve already lost two straight TWICE this season, including their last two matches. Last time they lost three straight? 2000! Just doesn’t seem likely that will happen this season.

6) Fresno State (21-7; 6-1 GCC); Bulldogs punched their ticket to a fourth-straight NCAA tournament with a scintillating OT win against Loyola Marymount. In halting the Lions’ 20-match win streak FSU extended their own win streak to seven. Last year they lost to eventual finalist USC in the quarterfinals. This year they draw #3 seed Cal. 

7) Long Beach State (22-7; 5-2 Big West); This was the best season for The Beach since 2017, when they also advanced to The Big West championship final. Lara Luka (88 goals, 54 assists) was the conference’s best player and one of five LBS players to capture all-conference honors. Luka is a senior, as is Mariah Walker. Chiara Amoroso, Martina Cardona and Elisa Portillo are all eligible to come back to The Beach.

8) UC-Irvine (18-11; 5-2 Big West); For the first time since 2017 the Anteaters weren’t in The Big West final. Meanwhile, Elena Flynn, one of UCI’s top players from last season, helped Cal to the #3 seed. 

9) Loyola Marymount (27-3; 7-0 GCC); One could say the Lions did everything possible to have a great season. 20-match winning streak. Wins against two teams ranked in the Top Ten, including Fresno State, twice. But not a third time; the Bulldogs’ win in the GCC Championship final ended all LMU dreams of an NCAA tournament appearance.

10 (T) Princeton (23-6; 12-0 CWPA); The Tigers are going to their second consecutive NCAA tournament, but this is not the same team as the one that upset #3 Cal in 2023—the first time Princeton had ever beaten the Golden Bears. Missing Jovana Sekulic, their All-American hole set who took the spring for a chance to play for the US at the Paris Olympics, the Tigers have a potent lineup and a chance for another upset. They open against No. 2 Hawai’i. The two teams met in February, with the Wahine taking a 10-6 decision in Honolulu.

10 (T) Arizona State (23-8; 2-4 MPSF); An excellent year for the Sun Devils ends as they beat Indiana in Bloomington to claim fifth place in the MPSF. The highlights of the season are narrow losses to Cal, Stanford and UCLA and the spectacular play of senior Luca Petovary (120 goals, 28 assists) as MPSF Player of the Year—the first Sun Devil so honored. Sophomore Millie Quin, an All-MPSF Second Team selection, should return to Tempe.

12) Indiana (21-10; 1-5 MPSF); Despite the season-ending loss to ASU, it was also a great year for the Hoosiers. A one-goal loss to Stanford and a two-goal loss to USC—in addition to two close losses to the Sun Devils—made this season one of the best for Indiana in the past decade. Next year Head Coach Taylor McInerney will enter her sixth season in Bloomington with as many as 20 experienced players, including junior Sophia Sollie, an All-MPSF Honorable Mention.

13) UC-San Diego (18-10; 4-3 Big West); The Tritons’ season might be looked at as a series of parts. They opened with early-season losses, including a one-goal loss to UCLA and a stretch of seven losses in nine matches. The middle was brilliant for UCSD; nine wins in 10 matches, including a 6-5 win over UC-Irvine. The last five matches were mixed; a 2-3 record that included one-goal losses to UC-Davis and Long Beach State and a season-ending loss to Hawai’i in The Big West Conference Tournament.

14) Michigan (21-11; 7-2 CWPA); After finishing 14th in the last poll of 2023, the Wolverines were picked 13th in this year’s CWPA preseason poll. So you could say they met expectations, though a win over Princeton in the CWPA championship final—a match they led by three goals early in the third period—would have greatly improved Michigan’s season. Unfortunately, the Tigers rallied for a 10-9 win and they, not the Wolverines, are going to NCAAs. 

15) UC-Davis (10-18; 2-5 Big West); There’s a fundamental question here; is it better to play a tough schedule and take your lumps—which is what the Aggies, who played 3/4 of the Top 20 teams including those ranked 1 through 13. The other is: win as many games against any possible opponents, including those far worse than you—an approach other programs take. In scenario one, you are building for the future; it remains to be seen if that’s what’s happening in Davis.

16) Cal State University-Northridge (18-15; 2-5 Big West); The Matadors came on strong towards season’s end, including wins over UC-Davis and UC-Santa Barbara. An early exit—via an 18-11 loss to UC-San Diego in The Big West tournament—puts a slight damper on a season that saw CSUN improve in wins and doubling (to two) their conference victories. Junior Dorottya Telek was named to The Big West Women’s Water Polo First Team.

17) Wagner (29-4; 12-0 MAAC); After a one-year lapse, the Seahawks return to NCAAs. The good news is that they continue to dominate teams not based in California; outside of a one-goal loss to Princeton, Wagner beat every team in their region. The not-so good news: of the Seahawks’ 33 matches, only five were against opponents ranked in the Top 20. If they beat Biola, as expected, in the NCAA opening match on May 9, Wagner will face No. 1 UCLA.

18) UC-Santa Barbara (15-14; 2-5 Big West); A narrow (three-goal) loss to UCLA in the season’s opening weekend suggested great things for the Gauchos in 2024. Alas, it was not to be, as tough matches (eight UCSB losses were by three goals or less) were the norm, including an 8-6 defeat by Long Beach State in the first round of The Big West tournament. Red shirt junior Leigh Lyter was named to The Big West Women’s Water Polo Second Team.

19) San Jose State (9-15; 0-6 MPSF); After a 16-8 win over Cal State Fullerton on March 8, the wheels to the Spartans’ season fell off. They played visiting Princeton tough in a 9-7 loss the next day, then proceeded to lose another seven-straight matches including a season-ending 10-9 loss to Indiana. Sophomore Sinia Plotz was named Second-Team All-MPSF; Freshman Darcy Spark was an honorable mention and also on the All-Newcomer team. 

20) Brown (17-16; 4-6 CWPA); A 13-12 OT win over Harvard at the CWPA Championship that ended the Bears’ season on a winning note and—along with a 9-7 loss to eventual champ Princeton in the opening round—propelled Brown Head Coach Felix Mercado to be named Doc Hunkler Coach of the Tournament. Ella Palmer and Madeleine Poissonnier also copped some hardware, being named CWPA All-Conference.


Biola (14-16; 5-1 WWPA); Guess who’s back in NCAAs? The Eagles are flying high, again. With a 12-11 win over Cal State East Bay in the 2024 Western Water Polo Association Championship final, Biola will go to its second national championship where it will face Wagner. Win or lose, the Eagles are making their mark on Division I water polo.

LIU (22-7; 10-2 MAAC) The Sharks’ loss to Mount St. Mary’s in the MAAC tournament may end an era in Brooklyn. Paolo Dominguez-Castro, a tremendous coup for Head Coach Gabby Suarez early in her coaching tenure at LIU, is a senior. Maybe Dominguez-Castro stays another year; she was the 2024 MAAC Offensive Player of the Year, recording 95 goals and 108 points. That’s an option because of the Covid-19 situation which gives her (and others) a fifth year of eligibility. But with assistant coach Petar Momcilovic leaving for Brown after less than a year, it looks like the Sharks will need to rebuild what was briefly the MAAC’s top program.


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