The bitter 12-11 Cal loss in the Barbara Kalbus Invitational was another tally for UCLA in the lopsided rivalry between the two premier UCs. The Bears are 11-52 all-time against the Bruins, but this Saturday, the No. 4 Cal women’s water polo team will attempt to avenge its loss and gain some traction in this series.
The two teams will face off at UCLA in a rematch of the third-place game from the Barbara Kalbus Invitational, which ended with redshirt senior Rachel Fattal nailing a penalty shot with 17 seconds left to push No. 3 UCLA over the top. If the Bears want to come away with a win this weekend, they will have to avoid late game dramatics and break through the iron wall that is Bruins sophomore goalie Carlee Kapana.
Kapana is second in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation in goals allowed, at 3.73 per game. She has conceded two goals total in two MPSF matches this season and has allowed only one score in four other games. Those numbers are impressive, but that’s not to say that UCLA’s goal is impenetrable.
In the Barbara Kalbus Invitational, Cal put up 11 goals against Kapana and the Bruins, which is the most UCLA has allowed in a game this season. If the Bears can execute the well-balanced attack that brought them oh-so-close to victory last time, they’ll have a good chance of coming out on top this time around.
“It was a team effort,” said Cal senior Emily Loughlin. “Everyone contributed. We brought a competitive energy that we want to duplicate when we go down south (this Saturday). We’ll be successful if we play the solid defense that we played against them last time.”
Playing good defense will be crucial, as the Bruins rank second in the MPSF at just above 16 goals per game. Perhaps the most dynamic player for UCLA is freshman phenom Maddie Musselman.
After winning gold with Team U.S.A in the 2016 Olympics, Musselman has burst onto the scene this season with a full head of steam. Musselman is second in the MPSF with 2.57 goals per game, and with her leading the way, the Bears defenders will have their hands full this Saturday.
UCLA, however, is not the only school that features a star freshman. Emma Wright has been a huge bright spot for Cal this season. While she hasn’t been able to match the brilliance of her seven-goal game against CSU Bakersfield, Wright has been a steady contributor on the offensive end. Heading into this game, Wright is second on the team in goals scored and tied for 13th in the MPSF in goals per game.
While it is still early in conference play, this match will have a heavy impact on the competitive race to the top of the MPSF. With a victory over a top-four team, the winner will push itself ahead of the pack, while the loser will be forced to play catchup the rest of the way. All signs point to an exciting matchup this weekend in Westwood.
Leo Liu covers women’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].