Regular Season Final Weekend Will Decide Top-Ten Women’s Water Polo Conference Seeds

UC Irvine's Dan Klatt always prepares well for the post-season; will this be the year Hawai'i beats out the Anteaters? Photo Courtesy UCI Athletics

It’s the last weekend of regular season play for women’s NCAA varsity polo—and the Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA) Top-Ten may not change, but seeding for the eight conferences that send teams to the NCAA tournament will be decided by Sunday night.

Top-ranked Stanford (17-1; 5-0 MPSF) held a seven-goal lead in the second period against host Cal in the annual Big Splash competition—then the Cardinal were lucky to escape the Spieker Aquatics Complex in Berkeley with a one goal win. But win they did, and clinched the 2019 MPSF regular season title. With two matches at home left—#9 UC Davis on Saturday and #20 San Jose State on Sunday—it’s almost assured that John Tanner’s squad will extend their winning streak to nine games.

The prize for finishing atop the MPSF standings? A first-round bye and rest until Day Two, when the Cardinal will face the winner of the four-five game, almost certain to be between Cal and San Jose State. With 68 goals—an average of four per game—Stanford’s Makenzie Fischer has been unstoppable, and is the leading candidate for Cutino Award honors. If there’s round three between the Cardinal and the Golden Bears, one thing to consider; last week Cal “held” Makenzie to a hat-trick, and her sister Aria dropped a five-spot on them.

After losing to Stanford last month—ending their 36-match win streak—#2 USC (22-1; 4-1 MPSF) needed to get back to winning, and they did, beating Cal two weeks ago and then winning last weekend against Arizona State. Now, the Trojans must dig deep for another big win, as they travel across town to face the Bruins of UCLA in their annual end of season rivalry match.

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Southern Cal already has a 10-3 win over their arch-rivals, at the Triton Invitational back in February. But that might as well as be a decade ago given the seismic changes with the USC coaching staff. On paper, the Trojans look to be the better team, especially if Maude Megens (58 goals) continue to score at an impressive clip. But, can you imagine what the vocal Bruin fans have in store for their least-favorite opponent? Or, what sort of game plan UCLA Head Coach Adam Wright will unleash against his less-experienced rival, Interim Head Coach Casey Moon? No matter who wins, these two teams are virtually assured to meet on Day Two of the MPSF Tournament; but the psychological implications of this match that are most important. It seems like the perfect opportunity for the Bruins to steal a win—and leapfrog the Trojans in the standings.

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Predicting a win by #3 UCLA (21-4; 4-1 MPSF) over USC on Senior Day is easy—just type it! There ARE good reasons why this is plausible. First, the Bruins held down the high-flying Stanford offense (averaging 16 goals a game) in a 7-6 loss to the Cardinal two weeks ago at Avery Aquatic Center (five of those goals were scored by—you guessed it—Makenzie Fisher). UCLA has shown it can has the potential to frustrate USC’s stars Megens, Paige Hauschild (31 goals), and Kelsey McIntosh (28).

USC Women's Water Polo defeats Princeton at home.

USC’s Amanda Longan can make water stand still; can she lead her team past UCLA this Saturday? Photo Courtesy: John McGillen

Bruins’ goalie Carlee Kapana is second in the MPSF with almost 10 saves a game (167 overall); she would have to be a difference maker against the Trojans—she registered 12 in the Cardinal loss. But, the MPSF leader in saves and goals against will be in the opposite cage on Saturday. Amanda Longan has 192 saves and a minuscule 4 GAA in 69 quarters—where she’s given up 69 goals. Lizette Rozeboom (16 goals in nine games) might be a difference maker Saturday, but Maddie Musselman (49 goals) has been on the money for Wright and UCLA this season.

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After falling into a seemingly impossible hole against arch-rival Stanford, #4 Cal (14-6; 2-3 MPSF) staged a ferocious comeback, as Brigit Mulder and Emma Wright (48 goals in 17 contest) scored hat-tricks, and a Cardinal lead that was once seven narrowed to one. Alas, that’s as close as the Golden Bears got to transforming their season. With a home game against Arizona State on Saturday, Head Coach Coralie Simmons’ squad should even their MPSF record and position themselves for a match next Friday against San Jose State. Before then, someone might figure if anything’s up with Kitty Lynn Joustra. A 2018 All-MPSF Second Team selection on the strength of 33 goals, in her sophomore season Joustra has logged 26 goals; with four matches remaining, there’s an outside chance she equals last year’s impressive campaign.

Hawai’i (16-5; 4-1) held onto the poll’s fifth spot, and should remain there after closing out its Big West regular season with an impressive 15-9 win last Saturday over #11 UC Santa Barbara. A 4-1 conference mark is good—but UC Irvine has a match in hand due to its big victory two weeks ago against the Rainbow Wahine—and a win versus Long Beach State will give the Anteaters top seeding in next week’s conference tournament. One race where Hawai’i has a decided advantage is between seniors Irene Gonzalez and Mary Brooks. With 218 goals, a scoring burst by Gonzalez could leap past Jessy Cardey (224) of UC Irvine for second all-time in the Big West. Brooks is at 203 for her Anteater career and is sixth on the Big West all-time scoring list.

After a three-win weekend in Lewisburg—Michigan (21-8; 6-0 CWPA) continues to hold down the #6 spot and is the top seed in the upcoming CWPA tournament, to be held at Brown. #18 Harvard, which opened the season with 10 straight wins, was a 17-2 victim of the Wolverines last weekend; host Bucknell lost by 10 (16-6) and George Washington was a 14-5 loser. It’s hard to imagine Head Coach Marcelo Leonardi’s squad will stumble in the CWPA tournament with yet another NCAA berth—a third-straight—in sight.

#7 UC Irvine’s (17-8; 3-1) late season surge could continue tonight against #13 Long Beach State; a win over the host 49ers would give the Anteaters top billing in the Big West; their only 2019 conference loss was to nemesis UC Santa Barbara. A win by LBSU could drop UCI into a three-way tie for second, but the big win over Hawai’i would still put the Anteaters in the #2 spot. What may motivate Head Coach Dan Klatt’s squad is the chance to avoid the Gauchos in the first round. Two wins by the 49er—tonight against UCI and Saturday against UCSB, would lock them into an opening match against UC Davis and set up an unappealing—for Anteater faithful—matchup between UCI and UCSB.

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It seems likely that Klatt will motivate his team to earn the top spot–and be in the driver’s seat for another NCAA berth, what would be his team’s seventh in the last nine years.

With a single match remaining Saturday against Golden Coast Conference foe Santa Clara, #8 Pacific (13-8; 6-0 GCC) should finish conference play undefeated for the second straight season. A GCC win streak that has grown to 15-straight should extend at least through next week’s first round, as Concordia, the Tigers’ opponent, was outscored 20-3 by Pacific last week. The wild card for the conference’s NCAA berth is #12 Loyola Marymount; the Lions are 5-2 in the conference, with losses to the Tigers and San Diego State. The only way they get back to the final is getting past the Aztecs; if they do it’s almost certain that Pacific will be waiting—and looking to clinch a third-straight GCC crown.

#9 UC Davis (17-10; 3-2 Big West) is locked in as the Big West’s #3 seed, and will face Cal-State Northridge (CSUN) next Friday in the first round. Before that, it’s a quick trip Monday to Avery for a match with the #1 Cardinal; the Aggies have already lost once (17-6) to Stanford. What’s key is that they beat the Matadors last weekend by 11-8; for Head Coach Jamie Wright’s team will focus on holding down Tori Wilson, who leads all Big West scorers with 61 goals.

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A 17-3 loss last week to USC pushed #10 Arizona State (12-10; 1-3 MPSF) further behind San Jose State in the race for the #5 spot in the MPSF—and a loss Saturday to Cal in Berkeley will cement a  sixth-place finish. That would lock the Sun Devils into a MPSF tournament match-up next Friday against UCLA—not a desirable outcome. A win against the Golden Bears will put them into an rematch against Cal in the four-five game. Head Coach Todd Clapper has four seniors on his roster, including Maud Koopman, who’s scored 169 goals in her illustrious ASU career, including 47 this season. That’s good for fourth all-time in program history; a seven-goal burst over the next four games will push her past Alkistis Benekou (175 goals).