Cal women’s water polo set for matchup with UCLA

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The Cal women’s water polo team is stuck right now in its pursuit for the NCAA tournament.

The Bears (12-3) have been stagnant in the No. 5 spot for the past two weeks as they head to Los Angeles on Saturday to take on No. 4 UCLA (16-3) at the Bruins’ Spieker Aquatics Center.

The Bears, fresh off their first conference loss to No. 1 USC, have some ground to make up in the race to the NCAA tournament. Cal lost, 10-5, to the Trojans on March 2, its third loss to a top-four team this season. A loss against the undefeated Trojans will not drop the Bears from the No. 5 spot, but it will not help in their quest to get to No. 3.

“No one likes to lose, and our girls sure as heck don’t like to lose, but we’re moving forward,” said Cal coach Richard Corso.

The Bruins have proven to be tough competitors, with two of their younger players ranking in the top 10 scorers in the MPSF conference.

Sophomore attacker Emily Donohoe is fifth in the MPSF with 41 total goals this season. Freshman attacker Rachel Fattal comes in at 10th with 1.89 scores per contest.

UCLA is also solid on the defensive end, with its goalkeeper sophomore Sami Hill ranked second in the conference, averaging 11.29 saves per game. Hill joins the team after redshirting last season while training with the USA Women’s National Team prior to the 2012 Olympics.

But the Bears have their own continual dominating force in Cal senior Emily Csikos, who scored 32 goals this season and 199 in her career. Csikos is currently tied for second on Cal’s all-time list and needs only 14 more goals to be the Bears’ all-time leading scorer.

Sophomore driver Tiera Schroeder is also a force to be reckoned with, scoring in all but three games so far this season, and is the team’s second leading scorer with 25 goals.

“As a team I think (we are) one of the smartest teams in terms of bouncing back,” said freshman driver Pippa Saunders. “We’re all on the same page. We have made a lot of improvements, and we’re starting to play more for each other.”

Saunders, a newcomer to the team, is already making a name for herself with seven goals so far this season.

For the past couple of weeks Cal, UCLA and ASU have been battling to see who will take that third spot and the opportunity to travel to the NCAA tournament. A win against the Bruins could bump the Bears back up in the rankings and place them in a prime spot to climb back to the No. 3 ranking when they match up against current No. 3 ASU next week.

“The tragedy of all of that is that two very good teams are going to be left at home, and we want to make sure that we’re not staying at home that weekend, so there’s a lot on the line,” Corso said.

Alicia Fong covers women’s water polo. Contact her at [email protected]