The Cal and UCLA women’s water polo teams have met once this year in a game that catapulted them on divergent paths.
On Feb. 4, the Bears were 10-0 on the season and ranked second in the country, close to making the jump to the top of the collegiate water polo world.
Then came their matchup at the Stanford Invitational against then-No. 4 UCLA — a 4-3 loss.
“That was the first hard game that we had of the season,” said sophomore Ashley Young.
Nine weeks later, Cal has dropped to No. 5 in the rankings and lost five of their last 11 games.
While Cal struggled, UCLA surged. The Bruins went on to upset Stanford and take the No. 1 ranking in the process, a recognition that Cal could almost taste weeks ago.
At 1 p.m. on Saturday, Cal (16-6, 3-2 in the MPSF) has a chance at revenge against the Bruins (16-1, 5-0) on Senior Day at Spieker Aquatics Center.
The first matchup between the two teams was a defensive battle that had only four total goals going into the final quarter. UCLA was able to squeak by with the one-point win despite an evenly-matched game.
“We each run our offense and defense in a similar fashion,” Young said. “Its hard to match up when you are playing basically the same team as yourself.”
Cal has relied on its defense on many occasions this year when its offense was unproductive. UCLA has relied on defense even more.
The Bruins rank seventh out of eight MPSF teams in offensive output, scoring only 8.35 goals per game. The squad’s top scorer, senior KK Clark, ranks second in MPSF, yet UCLA only has one more scorer ranked in the top 25.
However, with such an unbreakable defense, the offense has not been burdened to score as much. UCLA’s defense only trails Stanford in goals allowed per game at a dredging 4.94 goals per game.
Cal aims to use junior Dana Ochsner’s presence at center to beat senior keeper Caitlin Dement and her Bruins. Cal expects UCLA to collapse in on Ochsner, allowing the Bears to attack the Bruin’s major weakness, its gaps in its roster.
“Every team has a couple of kids out there that aren’t the best defensive players in the world,” said coach Richard Corso. “We need to target those players and go after them.”
With only two games remaining in the regular season, Cal can only win the MPSF title if an unlikely series of events takes place. As a result, the squad has shifted its attention to the MPSF tournament. The Bears can either win the tournament to earn the MPSF automatic bid or play well enough to earn an at-large bid to NCAAs.
Yet the road to qualifying starts with the upcoming contests against UCLA and No. 2 Stanford which can give Cal momentum heading into the postseason tournament.
“For us to qualify for NCAAs we need to go on a huge run at the conference championship,” Corso said. “But in order to do that we need to beat these two teams. We need some momentum and with momentum, anything can happen.”