Rivalries Renewed! UCLA to face USC, Cal vs. Stanford in 2018 NCAA Women’s Water Polo Semifinal Action

Wagner's Elise Begg (in white) fighting for the ball against USC. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

By Michael Randazzo, Swimming World Contributor

LOS ANGELES, CA. There were no surprises in Friday’s quarterfinal action at the 2018 NCAA Women’s Water Polo Tournament. Despite missing Head Coach Jovan Vavic, the top ranked Trojans of USC—playing in the friendly confines of Uytengsu Aquatics Center—easily dispatched Wagner by a score of 12-5. Kaylee Brownsberger led USC with three goals, while Paige Hauschild, Maud Megens and Elise Stein chipped in two goals apiece. Erika Hardy led the Seahawks with two goals, who misfired on 24 of the 29 shots they took against goalies Amanda Longan and Victoria Chamorro.

The Trojan win kicked off semifinal action where all top four seed—and Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) members—advanced to Saturday’s semifinals, where #1 USC will face #4 UCLA at 3 p.m. (PST) and #2 Stanford will be opposed by third-seeded Cal at 5 p.m. (PST). All matches will be streamed live at NCAA.com

“It was a good start for us,” said USC Assistant Coach Casey Moon, filling in for Vavic, who was serving out a red card penalty assessed at the MPSF Championships two weeks ago. “Maybe in the first minute and a half there’s some nervous energy. We tell everyone: Take a deep breath; the game will come to you.

“Hopefully we’ll make it to the Finals on Sunday,” he added.

“Compared to where we were last year playing in the 1 vs. 8 match [a 17-2 quarterfinal loss to UCLA] to where we’ve come now, I feel that we’ve taken a big step forward,” Wagner Head Coach Chris Radmonvich said. “Now we get to look forward to taking the next step.”

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UCLA’s Carlee Kapana. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

In what promised to be a more competitive match, UCLA, missing star attacker Maddie Musselman to an undisclosed ailment, got out to an early 4-0 lead over Pacific, who were also missing a key competitor; attacker Rachel Krieger. The game turned in the second half when UCLA’s Devin Grab netted back-to-back goals and Pacific, with star lefty Kyra Christmas playing out of position due to Krieger’s absence, simply couldn’t catch up, dropping an 8-4 decision.

Fueling the Bruin attack were two goals apiece from Devin Grab, Alexis Liebowitz and Lizette Rozeboom. The Tigers got two goals from Truly Dorland and lone scores from Christmas and Mariana Duarte.

“The reality is we have a lot of good pieces and we can never rely on one player,” UCLA Head Coach Adam Wright said regarding his star attacker’s absence. “As soon as you count on one person to do it all then you’re in big trouble—and we wouldn’t be here on the last weekend of the season if that was our approach.”

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UCLA’s Alexis Liebowitz defends against Mariana Duarte. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

“We had to play Kyra out of position today because we were missing Rachel Krieger,” Pacific Head Coach James Graham said. “We asked her to do some things both on the offensive and defensive end that she doesn’t normally do.”

The win sets up a fourth match up this season between the Trojans and Bruins, who have one of the more storied rivalries in collegiate sports. Key to the UCLA task is keeping Hauschild, Megens and Denise Mammolito from dominating offensively. Bruin netminder Carlee Kapana will need to be at the top of her game, while Musselman will have to be in the water if Wright’s charges are to have any possibility of ending the Trojans 14-match winning streak and advanced to a national championship final for the second straight year and fourth time in the last five. The Bruins have come up empty in all of those contest and have not won NCAAs since a run of five straight titles from 2005 – 2009.

If Stanford was feeling any ill effects from a bruising overtime loss to USC in the 2018 MPSF Championship match, second-seeded Stanford certainly didn’t show it, racing out to a 5-1 first quarter lead over UC Irvine in what became a 14-8 win. The Cardinal were never headed, as Aria and sister Mackenzie Fischer, Kat Klass, Madison Berggren and Jordan Raney each scored twice. Down 12-4 after three periods, the Anteaters rallied with four goals—including the second of Natalie Seidmann’s two goals—but it was not enough to save a six-match win streak and UC Irvine’s season.

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UC Irvine’s Natalie Seidmann. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

“I was pleased with the way we started,” Stanford Head Coach John Tanner said. “Obviously that was a big point of emphasis.

“We attacked really patiently and intelligently…. We also played at a fast tempo. That really set the tone.”

“The hard part is you’ve got to attack and defend them.” UC Irvine Head Coach Dan Klatt said. “The have some great players, and you couldn’t put emphasis on any particular area in this game. You know they’re going to get goals, so you have to score, but you also have to stop them from scoring too many goals.”

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Stanford’s Jordan Raney. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

In the day’s last quarterfinal match, the experience and depth of third seed Cal was simply too much for Michigan. The Golden Bears got a game-changing goal from Emma Wright that ignited a run of four straight scores to put Cal up 7-3 at the half. Michigan notched the first goal of the second half, but another four-goal outburst put the Golden Bears on their way to a 13-6 win and into their second straight NCAA semifinal.

“It was a team effort and we came into this game wanting to play for each other,” said Cal head coach Coralie Simmons. “We wanted to get some good momentum for [a semifinal match] against Stanford and obviously that was accomplished.”

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Cal goalie Madison Tagg. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

“Obviously a disappointing loss, but we played and performed  to the best of our ability,” Michigan Head Coach Marcelo Leonardi said. “I’m proud of them for their performance and effort. I think we squeezed everything out of them.”

The win sets up a grudge match between two Bay Area rivals. Earlier this season, Cal tagged Stanford with its first loss of the season, a triple overtime thriller that saw the Golden Bears come away with an 8-7 win. If either of today’s semifinal action is anywhere near as competitive as that March 4th date, it will be a great day of women’s water polo action at Uytengsu.

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Author: Michael Randazzo

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Michael Randazzo is a freelance contributor at Swimming World focusing on water polo. He covers polo all over the United States for SW and other publications, including the Collegiate Water Polo Association, Skip Shot, The New York Times, Total Water Polo, Water Polo Planet and others. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children and roots for St. Francis Brooklyn polo.

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