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The UCI women’s water polo hosted the Big West conference tournament at the Anteater Aquatics Complex. Going into the tournament the No. 9 ‘Eaters were seeded No. 3, behind Davis and Hawaii, both of whom the Anteaters would face on their quest for a conference championship and an NCAA berth. Before UCI would face Davis and Hawaii, they first had to take on No. 19 CSU Northridge.

Round 1: CSUN

The last time UCI and Northridge met, the ‘Eaters put up 19 points to the Matador’s six. History guarantees nothing however, and the ‘Eaters knew that.

UCI wasted no time in assuring that they move onto the next round putting up 14 points compared to CSUN’s one point. UCI looked dominant, controlling all areas of the pool, this was evident from the first goal on, when senior attacker Keanna Eldridge got things started, stumping the Matador’s goalie after a feed from senior attacker Corina Toledo with 5:04 still left to play in the first.

From there on the goals kept coming for UCI, the second quarter started with Senior center Natalie Seidemann slamming one past the Matadors.

The ‘Eaters saw another goal in the second, when senior Julie Swieca capitalized on the powerplay, after throwing down the hammer through traffic and into the net. Swieca scored on the powerplay, UCI scored on all four power plays they had. Even more impressively the ‘Eaters held the Matadors to zero power play goals on seven opportunities.

Junior Jenna Phreaner and senior Riley Shaw shared time in net, Shaw taking over for Phreaner in the Fourth, and making four saves in the quarter. At the end of the game, UCI was up 14-1 and nine different ‘Eaters had scored.

Semifinals: UC Davis

The No. 8 UC Davis Aggies handed the ‘Eaters a painful 8-9 loss last time the teams met, but UCI riding a big first round win and three game win streak was not about to let history repeat itself. UCI gave up the first goal on the powerplay, but answered in style with a string of passes, the last of which was a touch pass from freshman Tara Prentice to Seidemann who beat the goalie nearside. The power play was a huge factor for both teams, in fact all of the goals scored through the 2:49 mark of the third were powerplay goals.

At that point the ‘Eaters lead 5-4, when senior Keana Eldridge scored the first even strength goal of the game. It was obvious why the Aggies couldn’t score at even strength, when looking at UCI’s defensive stats, Phreaner had 14 saves on 33 shots from Davis, and Davis had 16 opportunities on the powerplay, where they managed five of their seven goals. UCI themselves had 12 opportunities on the powerplay, converting on six of them.

The ‘Eater were able to outplay Davis in their own zone and kept them from building momentum for a comeback, at one point the ‘Eaters lead by four points, but finished the game up 10-7.

Finals: Hawai’i

No. 5 hawaii was seeded first in the Big West, having gone undefeated by Big West opponents in the regular season, but UCI playing some of the best polo they had all year looked to change that. An early powerplay goal by Hawaii would make that difficult, when just 30 seconds into the game Irvine gave up their first goal and shortly after a second on another power play opportunity for the Rainbows.

Swieca would not let the Hawaii win that easily, as she marched into Hawaii’s zone and muscled a shot past the D with three minutes left to play in the first. On the following play, UCI’s defense started to pick up stopping their first powerplay, when Phreaner got a hand on a quick shot from Hawaii. At the end of the first, UCI trailed 3-1. Things locked up in the second quarter as both teams struggled to produce offensively, though UCI’s defense especially in the closing moments of the half when Hawaii had a two player advantage and the ‘Eaters with stood a barrage of shots, all of which phreaner turned aside.

The third period saw Uci’s first powerplay foal with 6:36 to play as Prentice converted on a nearside shot squeezed past the Hawaii keeper to bring UCI within one. Corina Toledo then hit a lob shot to with 3:41 to tie the game at three. Using that momentum, Alli loomis converted on a rebound from a Swieca shot in front of the net to give UCI their first lead of the game, with 2:45 left in the third. The lead would change hands twice before the quarter’s end 3 goals coming in under a minute of play, In the Fourth after giving up an early goal, Prentice scored on a cross cage shot from way out to tie the game at six.

UCI went down a point again, and as the clock ticked past the final minute, things looked grim until freshman Megan Falcon scored on a changeup that tied the game at seven, with 0:43 left to play. Prentice forced a turnover with 23 seconds to play, giving UCI one last chance to end things before overtime, but could not convert, sending the game into OT. The two Ot periods could not decide the game, so sudden death was needed.

It was senior Cara Borkovec who played the hero on a pass from Corina Toledo, putting the final goal of the game in and punching UCI’s ticket to the NCAA Tournament that will take place from May 11-13 at USC. “We knew what we had to do, and it all lined up, a play we have practiced 1,000 times, and a perfect pass. It could not have worked out any better.” Borkovec remarks on her huge game winning goal.

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