When it comes to women’s water polo, the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation is the conference of champions.
Since the NCAA began crowning a national champion in women’s water polo in 2001, MPSF members have accounted for all 20. This weekend in Los Angeles, seven conference members will begin their postseason climb to be the next champion in a long line of excellence.
Seeding for the tournament was finalized over the past weekend with the end of the regular season. Tournament host USC, owner of the previous three MPSF titles as well as the 2021 national championship, sits at the first seed and enjoys a first-round bye.
Cal, who sits in the middle of the pack in the fourth seed, will have a first-round matchup against No. 5 Arizona State.
The first round also features No. 3 UCLA vs No. 6 Indiana and No. 2 Stanford vs No. 7 SJSU. Every possible tournament matchup will feature a first, second or even third rematch.
Friday’s docket of games marks just the first of three rounds of tournament play that will culminate in the championship game Sunday, April 24. All of the teams competing in LA this weekend have experience in playing several tournament games over a short period.
The Barbara Kalbus Invitational at UC Irvine at end of February was the most recent tournament outing for this MPSF group. Every conference member, with the exception of Cal and San Jose State, was in attendance. After a long weekend and four games played, Stanford took home first place with a win against UCLA.
Earlier in the month of February, Cal and San Jose State found success in their own weekend triple headers at the Stanford Invitational and Fresno State Tournament, respectively.
Talent will be in abundance at Uytengsu Aquatics Center this weekend, and it’s unclear as to who has an edge over the rest of the field. But with an NCAA Tournament bid up for grabs, this tournament raises both the stakes and the competition. When each game brings more intense competition than the last, who will be able to take the heat?
In prior outings, this tournament’s higher-seeded teams seem to have gotten by with talent alone. In fact, many of the higher-seeded teams have not had to keep their best players in the whole game due to blowouts over lower-ranked opponents. For these squads, specifically USC, UCLA and Stanford, this weekend will prove an interesting test in endurance and grit.
Cal has had its fair share of slugfests this season, with two coming recently against Stanford and UCI. And though the Bears dropped both of those games, those late losses were loaded with lessons and, above all, experience with adversity. This should work to the blue and gold’s advantage as the tournament wears on.
The same principles apply to lower-seeded Arizona State, Indiana and San Jose State. But, as their regular-season record indicates, the talent difference is much wider. For each of these teams, the margin for error gets smaller and smaller, but it isn’t zero.
The first MPSF tournament to be played largely outside of state COVID-19 protocols will have Uytengsu full of energy and supporters from each school. And despite USC’s remarkable success on this stage in recent years, the championship is still very much up for grabs.
Expect a mad scramble between the top-four seeds, and perhaps an upset in the early rounds.
It’s the postseason. It’s a whole new game.
Cal ends the first round of games against Arizona State on Friday the 22nd at 2:30 pm. Streams will be available through MPSF and all games will be played at Uytengsu Aquatics Center at USC.