UC San Diego’s women’s water polo squad had quite the productive weekend on Mar. 4 and 5, as they won both legs of a doubleheader against Azusa Pacific University, Pomona-Pitzer Sagehens, 14–5 and 10–6, before returning home to win their first Big West conference match of the season against California State University, Northridge, 11–5. With the win, the No. 13 Tritons improved to 12–7 on the season.
UCSD’s matches against Azusa Pacific and Pomona-Pitzer on Friday, Mar. 4 were part of the 27-team Convergence Tournament, with the morning game played at the University of La Verne and the evening match at the Haldeman Pool of neighboring Claremont. The Tritons entered after a mixed performance against four ranked teams in the previous weekend’s Barbara Kalbus Invitational in Orange County, where they lost three in a row to UCLA, UC Davis, and the University of Indiana, before grabbing an overtime win against UC Santa Barbara in the final match.
Against Azusa Pacific, the Tritons were in the driver’s seat early, with graduate center Ciara Franke, last season’s Big West Player of the Year and UC San Diego Female Athlete of the Year, opening the scoring with 5:31 to go in the first period. UCSD would stretch that margin to 3–1 by the end of the quarter on a goal from freshman center Kendall Thomas, and a powerplay goal to beat the first-period buzzer from sophomore utility player Annika Arroyo. Franke and Thomas each added a second goal each in the second period, as the lead grew to 5–1 and the rout was on. Thomas notched a hat trick with a goal in the dying seconds of the period, making it 7–3 at the half.
The domination only continued in the second half, and both Franke and freshman attacker Courtney Okumura each had 2 goals in the half; Franke’s 2 goals gave her 4 goals for the match, with the final score coming on a penalty. UCSD closed out the match, only holding Azusa to a single goal in the final 14:43 of play to the Tritons’ 6, for a 14–5 victory. Franke led the way with 4 goals on 5 shots, and Thomas and Okumura added 3 and 2 scores, respectively. On defense, graduate Bennett Bugelli and sophomore Lexi Stahl shared goalkeeping duties with 16 minutes each, making 7 and 4 saves, respectively.
Just a couple hours and a 10-minute drive later, the Tritons were in Claremont to face Pomona-Pitzer in their home pool. It looked like another smooth match for UCSD in the opening minutes, with a goal from Arroyo in the first minute, followed by a goal from Thomas and a powerplay goal from Arroyo, putting the Tritons up 3–0 within four minutes. The Pomona-Pitzer Sagehens pulled a goal back with 3:13 to go in the period, but Franke scored just 18 seconds later to put UCSD up 4–1. But Pomona-Pitzer wasn’t out of it yet, as they scored 3 goals in the next four minutes of play to even things up at 4 early in the second period.
But it would be all Tritons from that point on, as UCSD poured on the next 5 goals, including 2 from Franke and 1 from Arroyo, completing a hat trick for each player. Down 9–4, the Sagehens scored 2 goals quickly, but it was too little too late, and after Thomas added some unneeded insurance with a goal with 1:44 remaining, UCSD walked away with the 10–6 victory. The Tritons once again had two players with hat tricks, with Franke joined this time by Arroyo, and Thomas had another great game with 2 goals on as many shots. Bugelli stayed in the net for the entire match this time, making 7 saves to 6 goals against.
After two matches on Friday in Los Angeles County, it was back to La Jolla for the first Big West conference match of the season at noon on Saturday, but if there was a physical toll for the Tritons, it didn’t show against No. 25 CSU Northridge at Canyonview Aquatic Center. The Tritons drew a penalty within the first 10 seconds of play, and while they couldn’t convert, Okumura still got on the board in the first minute. But Northridge equalized less than a minute later on a powerplay earned from a foul by Arroyo. Senior utility player Holly Maine notched a pair of goals within a minute to put UCSD up by 2, and after another CSUN goal in the second period, Franke, junior center Grayson Mix, and Thomas scored to make the lead 6–2.
Both teams traded 3 goals apiece down the stretch into the fourth quarter, making the score 8–5, before the Tritons put the match away with 3 more goals in the final 3:14. The first 2 came on penalties against Northridge, both of which were neatly put away by Arroyo, and senior utility player Chloe Pena added a powerplay goal to finish off the scoring, 11–5. It was another solid performance for the Tritons, as they outshot CSUN 31–21, went 4–0 on sprints, and had 11 steals to the Matadors’ 4. This time, Arroyo was the only Triton with a hat trick, Maine and Okumura added 2 goals apiece, and Bugelli made 7 saves in a complete game in goal.
The three-game stretch was a very successful one for UCSD, especially for Ciara Franke, who had 8 goals, including 7 on Friday alone. Franke has now scored in all 15 matches she has played this season, for a total of 39 goals. Arroyo also had a stellar weekend, with 7 total goals. Meanwhile, Bugelli moved up to 736 career saves for UCSD, as she moved into third place on the all-time leaderboard during the Kalbus Invitational — although she has just over half of the goals of the all-time UCSD leader, Courtney Miller, who played from 2013–2016.
The Tritons will remain in San Diego next weekend, as they take on California State University, Long Beach at home on Friday, Mar. 11, before three matches in the San Diego State University Aztec Invite on Mar. 12 and 13.
Image courtesy of Derrick Tuskan / UC San Diego Athletics