Looking to build off their recent victory against the University of Pacific on April 4, the Anteaters faced off against Mountain Pacific Sport Federation rival UCLA on April 8 at the Anteater Aquatics Complex. Ranked third in the National Collegiate women’s water polo poll, the Bruins rode a nine-game winning streak into the match and eventually came out on top, 9-5, against the 16th-ranked Anteaters.
The Anteaters, 2-7 in MPSF league play and 8-14 overall, were unable to solve the stifling defense of the Bruins, who are 7-1 in league action and 18-3 overall.
Despite a late 3-0 scoring run, UCI eventually fell to UCLA, 9-5. This score marked a significant improvement from last year’s match against UCLA, a match in which the Bruins routed the Anteaters 18-1.
‘We are improving every time we play,’ said interim Head Coach Marc Hunt. ‘To be able to go against a team of [UCLA’s] caliber and execute our offense and play good defense is absolutely a positive step forward for us.’
The match began as a defensive struggle. With the stingy defenses of both UCI and UCLA, neither team was able to establish a suitable offensive rhythm. UCLA sophomore Kristina Kunkel struck first for the Bruins, netting a power play goal during an exclusion of UCI senior utility Erica Horman. Horman tied the score with a buzzer-beater late in the quarter but UCLA would strike twice more, ending the first quarter on top 3-1.
UCI started the second quarter with a breakaway goal by junior driver Aleah Amr, pulling the Anteaters within one goal. However, the Bruins responded with four unanswered goals, ending the quarter leading 7-2. UCI goalie Kelly Woodbury made several crucial saves but the overwhelming Bruin offense got the best of the first-year net-minder.
‘The game went pretty well,’ said senior driver Rebecca Wedemeyer. ‘We let [UCLA] get away from us in the second quarter but we pressed them pretty hard and kept to our game plan.’
The game plan finally clicked during the third quarter. Amidst a 5-0 Bruin run, UCI struck twice on back-to-back possessions, leaving the score 8-4 after three quarters of play. Horman led this UCI push, scoring her second goal during the latter stages of the third quarter.
UCI senior utility Erika Ranes led off the fourth quarter with a critical goal off a missed rebound, pulling the Anteaters within three goals of UCLA. However, the Bruin defense tightened up during the latter stages of the final quarter, allowing UCLA to hold on to the victory, 9-5.
‘The game went pretty well. We played pretty good defense,’ said freshmen driver Robyn Kaake. ‘We are a good second-half team and are definitely improving throughout the season.’
With the loss, UCI dropped to 10th place in the MPSF standings while UCLA remained in third place with the victory.
Horman led the Anteaters with two goals, while Amr, Ranes and Kaake each chipped in with one. UCLA sophomore Katherine Belden led all players with three goals. Irvine goalie Kelly Woodbury led all goalies with five saves, while UCLA’s Emily Feher and Tahlia Kerr each recorded one save.
Despite the loss, Hunt was impressed by the improvement of the Anteater players, citing the marked improvement over last season.
‘This season is a season of learning for these girls,’ Hunt said. ‘The steps they have made are incredible. I have never coached a team that improved so steadily.’
Up next for the Anteaters is the Long Beach Tournament on April 17-18. Irvine’s opponents for the tournament includes fifth-ranked San Diego State, 17th-ranked Arizona State and current top-ranked USC.
With the MPSF season winding down to its final month, the Anteaters are looking forward to ending their season with a strong showing at the MPSF tournament.
‘We are preparing for the MPSF tournament,’ Hunt said. ‘Our conference is the toughest conference in the nation and our preparations are all focused toward our showing at the MPSF tournament.’
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