To say the No. 4 Cal women’s water polo team’s exit from the NCAA championship tournament was heartbreaking would be a gross understatement. Its semifinal, overtime, 10-8 loss to No. 1 USC on Saturday put a damper on the sheer force that was on display from the Bears throughout the tournament.
A hard-fought quarterfinal win against Hawaii set the stage for the vengeful Bears, who were hoping to earn their first victory over the Trojans on the season. USC only had one loss in 28 season matchups and was the clear favorite after winning two national titles in the last three years.
Cal fell behind, 3-0, just six minutes into the game, but the team quickly responded early in the second quarter after drawing even thanks to sophomore Brigit Mulder’s two first-half goals. The rest of the match was a last-team-standing, back-and-forth dogfight to see who was worthy of an appearance in the final.
Senior goalie and All-American hopeful Madison Tagg rose to the occasion in her final game as a Bear, posting a career-high-matching 18 saves to quell arguably the best attacking offense in the country.
The Trojans scored three goals in overtime, as the knockout blow from USC freshman Mireia Guiral with eight seconds left sealed Cal’s fate. USC lost to Pac-12 foes No. 2 Stanford in its third NCAA Championship final appearance in four seasons.
The Bears will lose six impactful seniors, but their losses will do little to reduce next season’s lofty expectations. This is the third-straight semifinal exit for Cal after losses to UCLA in 2017 and Stanford in 2018, continuing a trend that the Bears will hope to surmount in 2020.
A bittersweet end to this season will fuel Cal’s success in the next. Head Coach Coralie Simmons and company will look to flip the script in hopes of making their fourth-straight NCAA Championship final four appearance.