Women’s Water Polo Drops Big West Semifinal to UC Irvine

In the semifinals of their inaugural Big West tournament, UC San Diego’s second-seeded women’s water polo team (9–8, 3–2 Big West) lost a nailbiter to third-seeded UC Irvine (11–7, 2–2 Big West) at Canyonview Aquatic Center on May 1, 12–11. Despite four goals from senior center Ciara Franke and three from senior attacker Tera Richardson, the Tritons fell in a hole midway through the contest and couldn’t complete the comeback.

Saturday’s match was the third straight these teams played against each other, as UC Irvine had defeated UCSD in both of their meetings the weekend before, 12–9 and 10–9. Still, the Tritons had the better conference record and entered the semifinal as the higher seed.

The Anteaters got on the board first 1:11 into the game, but just 27 seconds later, Franke evened the match up with a goal of her own. After a foul against senior utility player Sydney Boland soon after, Irvine took the lead back on the resulting powerplay. Later in the period, senior attacker Grace Pevehouse fed the ball to Richardson after a steal for the equalizing goal. Once again, Irvine took a 3–2 lead on a powerplay goal resulting from an exclusion against freshman utility player Annika Arroyo.

But just over half a minute later, Arroyo scored a powerplay goal of her own off the assist from Boland to even the game at three; soon after, a turnover on an offensive foul by UCI gave UCSD another opportunity, and sophomore defender Karis Couch found the net to give the Tritons their first lead of the match after one quarter, 4–3.

The second period, however, would not go UCSD’s way. Early in the quarter, Irvine’s Danielle Ayala scored a powerplay goal after a foul on Richardson, followed by two goals in a span of 40 seconds from UCI’s Calysa Toledo to put the Anteaters up 6–4 with 4:51 remaining in the period. Richardson would respond with a powerplay goal with 3:00 remaining to bring the deficit to one, but Irvine scored three goals in the final 2:22 of the period (including one with just a second to go), and they led at the half, 9–5.

In the third period, the Anteaters would extend that lead to 5, after a foul on Franke yielded a powerplay score. Franke did her part to bring the Tritons back into the game, though, with 2 goals within a minute, off of assists from Boland and Richardson, to put the score at 10–7. After another Anteater goal, Franke scored her fourth of the game and third of the period to make it 11–8, but Irvine once again extended their lead to 12–8 with 1:49 left in the third. Richardson scored almost immediately off a Boland assist to close the lead to a somewhat manageable 12–9 going into the fourth.

The match got a little chippy down the stretch in the fourth, as the Tritons drew three penalties through the first five minutes, but UCSD couldn’t find the back of the net with time running off the clock. The Tritons finally found a goal at the 3:02 mark, with Arroyo getting a powerplay score to cut the lead to two. With just 1:25 to go, Boland scored a vital goal to put the Tritons just a score away from completing the comeback and tying the match.

But that score wouldn’t materialize for UCSD, as a shot from senior utility player Jessee Ransone was stopped by Irvine, and a penalty against Richardson as well as a card against Triton coach Brad Kreutzkamp helped the Anteaters hold on for a 12–11 win.

The Tritons were led by four goals from Franke, a La Jolla High product, and a hat trick from Richardson on just three shots. Richardson and Franke also led UCSD with three steals apiece, and Boland led the squad with three assists. On offense, the Tritons were outshot by Irvine .480 to .379, and on defense, senior goalie Bennett Bugelli had 9 saves on 21 shots on goal.

UCSD’s loss to Irvine, the Tritons’ first-ever Big West tournament game, will end their season unless they are one of the eight teams selected for the NCAA tournament on May 14 to 16, with the bracket selection on May 3. Before the match, UCSD sat in ninth place in the Collegiate Water Polo Association rankings, with Irvine in a tie for seventh.

Photo courtesy of Derrick Tuskan / UC San Diego Athletics

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