Women’s Water Polo Caps Off A Stellar Season In The NCAA Tournament

Despite finishing the season on a low note, the No. 10 UCSD women’s water polo team had a fantastic season overall, finishing 28–11 overall, tying the program record.

 

Starting the season at the Santa Barbara Winter Invitational, the Tritons started the season at a rock solid 3–0 before eventually falling to UC rivals UC Santa Barbara, who were ranked 13th at the time, in a tight 10–9 match.

 

In the next matchup, UCSD played No. 3 ranked USC in its first match against a top-10 team. Alas, it was not the Tritons’ night, as they were blown out 17–4. This initiated an unfortunate trend for the team, as they were unable to win against a top-10 team for most of the season.

 

Despite the loss, the team would turn home for the Triton Invitational with a solid 4–2 record, just enough for a 19th-overall ranking. Opening up against No. 17 Indiana, the Tritons showed they were ready to defend their home turf as they sunk the Hoosiers 11–3, thanks to a combined six goals from senior attacker Julia Kirkland, senior center Lauren Finwall and redshirt junior two-meter defender Alexis Wieseler. Later that day, UCSD had a chance at redemption against USC, as the Tritons hoped to settle the score. But even with senior goalkeeper Courtney Miller’s seven saves, the Tritons fell once again to the Trojans, with a final score of 15–8.

 

The following day, however, the Tritons had another shot at revenge, facing off against UCSB early in the morning. The game was a thriller, as the Tritons needed sudden death to knock out the Gauchos 12–11 off of a junior center Lauren Boyer goal, finishing off the day tying her career high of five goals.

 

After splitting at home, the Tritons would go on to play in the UC Irvine Invitational, losing matches against No. 5 UC Davis and No. 7 Arizona State, but pulling out strong victories against No. 14 LMU and No. 12 Pacific — all close wins.

 

The Tritons, now ranked 12th, would go on a stretch of dominance as they won their next 10 games — including a thrilling rematch against Indiana, which required going into sudden death to pull out the victory.

 

Breaking the streak was a 11–5 loss to the No. 3-ranked Stanford, beginning a losing streak: The Tritons went on to lose back-to-back games against No. 7 UC Irvine and No. 4 Hawaii.

 

Luckily, the Tritons still had some gas left in the tank, as they closed out the regular season on a five-game winning streak, heading into the Western Water Polo Association Championship with a strong 24–9 overall record.

 

Playing their championship games at Chabot College, the Tritons had their way with Mercyhurst, cruising by with a 16–4 victory, and then mounted a comeback against Cal State East Bay to win 9–5 to earn the WWPA titles and an automatic bid to the NCAA Championship.

 

First up was their play-in game against Whittier, whom the Tritons defeated handily, despite a late rally by the Poets. Traveling to Los Angeles to compete in the remainder of the tournament, the Tritons earned the right to face the host, No. 3 UCLA. It didn’t end well.

 

Despite Wieseler’s two goals, the Tritons were no match for UCLA’s red-hot offense, as the Bruins dropped 17 points to the Triton’s measly four. The Tritons actually scored the opening goal, a Wieseler score off a power play, but the Bruins began pulling ahead in the second quarter, and eventually outscored the Tritons 7–0 in the third quarter alone.

 

But the Tritons would bounce back, facing a familiar opponent in No. 7 UC Santa Barbara in the consolation bracket. Catching fire early in the game, the Tritons simply outmatched the Gauchos on offense, outscoring them in every quarter but the last. Thanks to Wieseler’s three goals, two assists, and one steal, the Tritons ran away with a 10–5 victory, earning their first win against a top-10 ranked opponent.

 

In their final game of the tournament, the Tritons found themselves fighting for fifth place against No. 6 Arizona State. But their potent offense from the previous game was nowhere to be found, as UCSD could only muster up two goals, one from senior attacker Emma Sasson and one from Wieseler.  Arizona State found its stride in the second half, scoring six goals to clinch an 8–2 win against the Tritons.

 

The Tritons finished the tournament in sixth place, matching their program best. UCSD finished 28–11 overall, which also tied a program record and was a career best for seventh-year head coach Brad Kreutzkamp. Wieseler was rewarded for her stellar play by being named to the NCAA Championship All-Tournament Second Team; she scored six goals in the tournament, and had a team high 78 goals and 71 steals for the season. Senior attacker Laurel Kistler was vital to the team’s success this season, earning a statline of 58 goals, 42 assists and 57 steals on the season, while Miller held down the fort with 305 saves, 41 assists and 28 steals.

 

At the end of this year, the Tritons will lose five seniors, but retain 19 others, including Alexis Wieseler.

“We’ve definitely had our biggest win of all our appearances at NCAAs this time around,” Miller said in the team’s final press conference. “This game didn’t really go how we hoped it would but, I mean, it doesn’t really take anything away from the season that we’ve had.”