The 2017 NCAA Women’s Water Polo Championship took place on May 12-14 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Eight women’s collegiate water polo teams competed for the national champion title. Cardinal repeated the success from 2014 and 2015 finals. They defeated the Bruins to win their 5th national championship in seven years.
The annual tournament started on May 12 when UCLA, California, Stanford and USC defeated their rivals to proceed to the semifinals.
Top-seeded UCLA easily triumphed over Wagner Seahawks, 17-2, leaving them scoreless in the first half. Wagner water polo players had no solution against the MPSF champion and managed to score only two goals in the second half. Bruins Angermund, Barr, Musselman and Tielmann netted four goals.
UC Irvine woke up too late and could not overcome the advantage achieved by their rival. They were trailing 1-7 before the final period when they scored six goals, which was not enough. California Bears won, 9-7.
Stanford controlled the match against Pacific Tigers from the very beginning and beat them, 13-6. Cardinal achieved a three-goal lead at halftime and increased it later allowing their opponent to net only one goal in the second half.
USC Trojans made no mistake and overpowered Michigan water polo players, 12-6. After a 1-1 tie at the start, the Trojans stepped up their game and had a seven-goal lead before the final eight minutes (10-3). They took their foot off the gas in the fourth quarter, but Michigan had no chance.
In the first semifinal game, UCLA proved too strong for California and advanced to the final match. Maddie Musselman scored the opener for UCLA, but Emma Wright quickly equalized. The Bruins then netted three consecutive goals creating a significant advantage which the Bears could not overcome. Emily Loughlin and Dora Antal brought down the deficit to one, but Bronte Halligan found the net to make it 5-3 for UCLA at the end of the first period. In the second quarter, Rachel Fattal netted her goal number two to double the lead, but Anna Illes responded. After Mackenzie Barr and Alys Williams scored a goal each, UCLA’s advantage was doubled again. Barr netted one more for the Bruins, followed by goals from Stephanie Mutafyan and Illes. UCLA went on a break with three-goal advantage (9-6).
The second half saw both water polo teams scoring back-and-forth with the difference varying from three to four. California Bears kept the deficit from increasing but were unable to make a comeback. Carla Carrega found the net for California, while the game’s top scorer Maddie Musselman netted her 4th. Bruins Barr and Fattal, as did Illes for the Bears.
Stanford emerged as the second finalist after a nail-biting contest with USC in the semifinal.
Maggie Steffens gave Cardinal their first lead, but Annika Jensen found the net for the Trojans making it a tie for the first out of nine times in this tense showdown. USC managed to equalize every time Stanford took the lead, as the teams took turns in scoring during the entire first half which ended in a draw (6-6).
In the third quarter, Meggens found the net to put the Trojans into the lead for the first time in the game, and Daboub increased the advantage to two. Madison Berggren and Kat Klass led Stanford to another tie, but USC’s top scorer Daboub found the net for the third time and brought plus one to her team before the final period. The game’s top scorer Steffens netted her fourth and Raney found the net to help Cardinal dash USC’s hopes and advance to their eighth NCAA final in a row.
On May 14, UCLA and Stanford water polo players battled for the national title for the third time in the past four years. UCLA recorded two victories over Stanford this season and had their hopes high ahead of the final game. However, they were overpowered by the last year’s runner-up (7-8).
Stanford water polo team opened the match with two consecutive goals by Madison Berggren and Jordan Raney. Maddie Musselman scored the first for UCLA to cut the deficit (1-2). In the second quarter, Jamie Neushul increased the Cardinal’s lead to two, but Kodi Hill answered quickly. Bruin Maggie Steffens found the net twice in a row before the halftime to give her team a three-goal advantage (2-5).
The Bruins stepped up their game in the second half but were still struggling to turn over the result. The teams were trading goals in the third period. Stanford had plus two before the final period. UCLA water polo squad did not surrender and got closer to a tie thanks to Alys Williams’ second. Although Shanon Cleary increased the lead to two again, Musselman stroke back and netted two consecutive goals to equalize the result for the first time in the match with 51 seconds left on the clock. The Bruins failed to seize the opportunity for the win. Steffens scored her third goal giving Stanford a reason to celebrate.
NCAA Women’s Water Polo Championship (May 12-14, 2017)
UCLA vs. Wagner 17-2 (6-0, 3-0, 4-1, 4-1)
UC Irvine vs. California 7-9 (1-4, 0-2, 0-1, 6-2)
Stanford vs. Pacific 13-6 (3-2, 5-3, 3-1, 2-0)
USC vs. Michigan 12-6 (3-1, 4-1, 3-1, 2-3)
UCLA vs. California 14-11 (5-3, 4-3, 4-4, 1-1)
Stanford vs. USC 11-10 (5-4, 1-2, 2-3, 3-1)
UCLA vs. Stanford 7-8 (1-2, 1-3, 2-1, 3-2)
Photo: Catharyn Hayne / KLC fotos