UCLA Stays Atop Women’s Water Polo Poll After Claiming Kalbus Invitational Title

UCLA Water Polo

UCLA Stays Atop Women’s Water Polo Poll After Claiming Kalbus Invitational Title

Last weekend, nine of the nation’s top ten teams traveled to Irvine, CA—only Princeton declined a spot in the 2024 Barbara Kalbus Invitational—offering a prime opportunity to evaluate NCAA title contenders. Fresno State’s ranking proved to be too much; two losses dropped the Bulldogs to #6 in the latest Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA) Women’s Varsity Poll. Stanford moved up to #3. Cal and USC rose, too, despite performances that left something to be desired.

#1 UCLA and #2 Hawai’i, who faced each other in Sunday’s final, proved deserving of their rankings. In the Kalbus final, the Rainbow Wahine raced out to an 8-3 lead—the second time this season Hawai’i has opened up a five goal lead on UCLA—but could not blunt a furious second half rally which saw the Bruins outscore their opponent 12-1 and cruise to a 15-9 win. The contest was reminiscent of an early February match when UCLA went down 5-0 early to Hawai’i but battled back for a 13-12 win in overtime.

If the third time’s the charm for the Rainbow Wahine, it will have to be in NCAAs, ideally in the final.

1) UCLA (14-0; 0-0 MPSF); A tournament like the Kalbus Invite presents significant challenges. Four games over three days—and two on a single day—is draining. By the quarterfinals the competition is strong, and the semifinals almost always include the nation’s top four. Only the nation’s best are Kalbus finalists, which is why teams playing for this title are almost always finalists for the national championship. Which is to say: UCLA earned their 2024 Kalbus title, the program’s fourth. They breezed past Cal State Fullerton, flattened UC-Irvine, stifled Stanford… then enjoyed an incredible comeback against Hawai’i. This weekend the Bruins open MPSF play against Indiana, perhaps a letdown? Nah!

2) Hawai’i (11-2; 0-0 Big West); For anyone who considered the Rainbow Wahine a flash in the pan, their performance in Irvine proved otherwise. For 12 minutes they embarrassed the nation’s top team, forcing numerous turnovers while racing out to a huge lead. Some (including the UCLA faithful) might revel solely  in the Bruins’ stunning comeback, but there is no question that Hawai’i is a legitimate national title finalist. They’ve got speed – Lot Stertefeld blazed up and down the pool at Corona del Mar High School—and skill; Bernadette Doyle, a lefty, scored a picture-perfect weakside goal on the counter. Daisey Logtens, a mobile goalie comfortable challenging shooters, and the depth that Head Coach Maureen Cole and coach-in-waiting James Robinson have assembled makes Hawai’i a national title contender. They just need to hold a lead against UCLA.

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

3) Stanford (10-3; 0-0 MPSF); After dismantling USC on Saturday, the Cardinal were stuffed by UCLA. They rebounded to top Cal and finish third at the Kalbus, but right now Head Coach John Tanner’s team seems a step behind the Bruins. It’s a long season, and things can change at the MPSF tournament (ask UCLA Coach  Adam Wright about that), but Stanford’s goal of a three-peat appears in peril.

4 (T) California (8-3; 0-0 MPSF); Going into last Saturday’s match against Hawai’i, it was possible to see the Golden Bears as a contender for the nation’s top spot. In a 9-5 win over Fresno State, Cal’s defense in front of goalie Isabel Williams was stifling. Thoughts drifted to: maybe THIS is the Golden Bears’ year. Then came a 10-7 loss to Hawai’i—where Williams registered a lone save—and a 7-6 loss to Stanford in the third place match. Cal takes a week off before a non-conference match against Pacific.

4 (T) USC (8-3; 0-0 MPSF); There was a moment in their Saturday match against host UC-Irvine when it appeared the Trojans might drop a second straight decision—they had already lost to Stanford—and register more losses this season than in all of 2023. Freshman Ava Stryker (8 goals, 5 assists) stepped into the breach, leading USC to a 12-9 win over UCI. The Trojans then dominated Fresno State to capture fifth at the Kalbus Invite—and boost them into four winnable matches at the Claremont Convergence Tournament this weekend.

6) Fresno State (12-5; 0-0 GCC); The Bulldogs entered last weekend on a high—#3 in the nation—but came down to earth in losses to Cal and USC. The biggest disappointment may have come against the Golden Bears; Fresno State immediately got behind and could not solve Cal goalie Williams. This weekend the Bulldogs are off; then GCC play opens against Cal Baptist.

7) UC-Irvine (7-8; 0-0 Big West); The Anteaters split their four games; a loss to UCLA, then in a match against USC, UCI was tied until three minutes remaining. Bookending those losses were impressive wins over Michigan and Long Beach State. Four winnable matches at Claremont this weekend will be followed next weekend by Big West conference play.

8) Michigan (12-6; 1-0 CWPA); A seventh place finish at Kalbus was a positive outcome for the Wolverines. They won three and lost one, with their sole loss to host US-Irvine. Next up is a trip East and CWPA contests against Brown, Harvard and defending conference champs Princeton in New Jersey.

9) Long Beach State (8-6; 0-0 Big West); Despite three losses at the Kalbus Invite, the Beach had a memorable tournament. They opened with a win over Arizona State, were beaten decisively by Hawai’i, then suffered an OT loss to Fresno State and a one-goal loss to UC-Irvine. Lara Luka (9 goals, 8 assists) was a dynamic presence all weekend; Head Coach Shana Welch is a vocal leader whose team will compete hard all season. This weekend, matches against Mount St. Mary’s and LIU at Claremont.

10) Princeton (8-2; 2-0 CWPA); Wins against La Salle and LIU extended the Tigers’ win streak to six. Up next are CWPA foes Bucknell as well as Michigan, fresh off a strong performance in Irvine.

11) Arizona State (14-4; 0-1 MPSF); The Sun Devils fell 9-8 to Michigan in the Kalbus seventh place match, putting a damper on their visit to Irvine. Powering ASU were Luca Petovary (16 goals) and Millie Quin (9). This weekend the Sun Devils return to California for four matches at Claremont against unranked opponents.

12) Loyola Marymount (17-2; 0-0 GCC); Four more one-sided wins in matches hosted by Cal Lutheran extended the Lions’ win streak to 10—a streak that will be intact until at least next week when LMU travels to Santa Clara for its first GCC contest.

13) UC-Santa Barbara (11-7; 0-0 Big West); In Irvine the Gauchos held Stanford in check until the fourth period and hung tight with Michigan before a three-goal loss. Wins against Indiana and UC-San Diego made for a good Kalbus tournament. Up next: travel to Davis for a Big West contest against Aggies.

14) Indiana (14-2; 0-0 MPSF); The Hoosiers had one of their better performances of the Kalbus Invite. They dropped a two-goal decision to USC and a three-goal decision to UCSB then notched wins against Cal State Fullerton and Pomona-Pitzer. No rest for Head Coach Taylor McInerney; her team is back in California for a match Saturday against UCLA.

15) UC-San Diego (7-8; 0-0 Big West); It was a tough weekend in Irvine for the Tritons, who are fighting off injuries as well as opponents. Three losses—to Cal, Arizona State and UC-Santa Barbara—and a lone win over Biola. This weekend it’s off to Claremont, then Big West contests against CSUN and UC-Irvine.

16) UC-Davis (6-12; 0-0 Big West); After a 1-11 start, the Aggies have rebounded to win five of their last six—all against lower ranked opponents. Big West play opens this weekend as UC-Santa Barbara comes to Davis; next week it’s Hawai’i. 

17) Pacific (8-5; 0-1 GCC); After a week off the Tigers got back in the water against Azuza Pacific, a GCC foe. It was not good; Pacific dropped a 14-8 decision to a Cougar squad that had yet to be a ranked team. They have now.

18) Wagner (15-3; 1-0 MAAC); A busy weekend for the Seahawks. A loss to Brown snapped a ten-match winning streak. Three wins, including a 10-6 victory over host Harvard in Cambridge and a forfeit win against Mercyhurst. A week off before a trip to Virginia Military Institute for MAAC play.

19 (T) Harvard (7-5; 1-1 CWPA); Crimson win at home against Ivy foe Brown and then split four matches at their own invitational, including a one-goal lost to UC-Davis. This weekend: a trip to Princeton but no rematch with the host Tigers, who they lost to last month. Michigan will be the toughest opponent of three.

19 (T) Brown (8-7; 0-1 CWPA); A decidedly mixed weekend for the Bears. They beat Wagner, snapping the Seahawks win streak. But Brown dropped its first conference game to Ivy foe Harvard, and also lost to UC-Davis by a goal. This weekend: four conference games at Princeton including a match against their host.

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