Fresh off winning the Big West Conference Tournament and earning a fourth seed at the NCAA Championships, this past weekend in Indianapolis at the IU Natatorium, the UC Irvine women’s water polo team was pitted against an unfamiliar opponent in Cal in the opening round of play on Friday; a team they had not met in the regular season.
Responding to a 7-1 deficit heading into the fourth quarter and going on a six-goal barrage in the last period of play, the ‘Eaters’ comeback attempt fell just short as they were bounced out of the NCAA Tournament with a 9-7 loss to the Golden Bears. Big West Player of the Year Mary Brooks scored a hat trick all in the fourth quarter to lead the ‘Eaters in scoring, with senior Gabby Pierandozzi right behind with two of her own.
It was Pierandozzi who opened up the scoring for UCI, as Cal jumped to an early 2-0 lead. Despite stopping the bleeding, the Golden Bears proceeded with two more goals and increased their lead to 4-1.
Cal went up 6-1 at halftime and scored one in the third period to make it five unanswered in their favor.
It was Pierandozzi again that ended the Cal run with a goal to open up the fourth, and Brooks followed up to give the ‘Eaters life at 7-3 with six minutes left in the game. Brooks scored another to trim the Cal lead to three with 5:25 to play, but the Golden Bears would immediately respond on the next possession to make it 8-4. Soon after, senior Kelsey Thornton got on the board for the ‘Eaters, and junior Julie Swieca chipped in with a goal to put the ‘Eaters within reach at 8-6 with 2:25 remaining. Cal would score what looked to be the finishing blow with 1:38 left, but Brooks retaliated right on the next possession to make things a two-point game. The gutsy effort by UCI would be halted not by Cal but by the final horn, as time expired and the ‘Eaters’ season would come to an end.
The ‘Eaters conclude the season with a 23-7 overall record and a national ranking of fifth — the best the program has ever had in its history.