NCAA Women's Water Polo Championships: UCLA, Stanford and USC advance

UCLA Athletics / StanfordPhotos.com / John McGillen

Three of the four teams from the Pac-12 competing in the 2016 Women's National Collegiate Water Polo Championship advanced to the semifinals with quarterfinal wins on Friday – UCLA, Stanford and USC all won their opening-round games, while Arizona State lost and is now in the consolation bracket.

UCLA

UCLA shook off a slow start to overwhelm UC San Diego and move on to the semifinals, knocking off the Tritons 17-4. After falling behind in the first 30 seconds of the game, UCLA reeled off a 6-1 run to take command of the game and led 7-3 at the half. The Bruins then put the game on ice in the third quarter, outscoring the four-time defending WWPA champs 7-0 in the period. Freshman Lizette Rozeboom led the way with four goals for UCLA, while second-team all-MPSFer Alexa Tielman set the tone for the Bruins at two meters with a couple of early goals to get the Bruins going offensively and finished with three goals and two assists.

Alex Musselman was stellar in her three quarters of play, turning away multiple one-on-nobodies and finishing with nine saves against just three goals allowed before giving way to Carlee Kapana in cage. The one thing head coach Brandon Brooks will emphasize to his team going forward is 6-on-5 execution, as the Bruins did not convert any of their first four power-play opportunities in the first half when the game was still in the balance. The win might have been a little bittersweet for Bruins Elissia Schilling and Allie Wiesler, both of whom have sisters who play on the UCSD women's water polo team.

UC San Diego will move on to the loser's bracket and strive for a fifth-place finish. It is the third consecutive year that UCLA has defeated UCSD in the quarterfinal round.

[Related: 2016 NCAA Women's Water Polo bracket (NCAA.com)]

Stanford

A smothering defensive performance and clincial offensive output allowed Stanford to breeze past UC Santa Barbara 12-5 and advance to the semifinals, where the two-time defending champions will face host UCLA. A far cry from the teams' regular-season meeting in Santa Barbara in which the Gauchos held a lead in the second quarter, Friday's quarterfinal contest was never in doubt – Stanford scored the first seven goals of the game and led 9-1 at halftime.

Precision passing allowed the Cardinal to get good looks at the net, as 10 of Stanford's 12 goals were assisted. Shannon Cleary led the way with a hat trick, while Dani Jackovich, Gurpreet Sohi, Madison Berggren and MPSF Newcomer of the Year Kat Klass each rattled the cage twice. Julia Hermann, the Cardinal's only true goalie this year due to Gabby Stone's training with the United States national team, again stepped up in cage, stopping 12 shots and collecting a steal.

Saturday's semifinal matchup between the Bruins and Cardinal is a rematch of the last two national championship games, both of which were won by the Cardinal. Overall, Stanford has won four of the last five national titles.

UC Santa Barbara will meet UC San Diego in a fifth-eighth place qualification game, with the winner moving on to the loser's bracket championship.

USC

USC scored on its first three possessions and never looked back as the top-seeded and undefeated Trojans blew past San Diego State 12-3 to punch its ticket to the semifinal round. Canadian product Hayley McKelvey scored a hat trick for the Trojans, as USC held an 8-2 halftime lead and never let the Aztecs get closer than three goals once San Diego State scored. Head coach Jovan Vavic also got two-goal efforts from two-meter player Brigitta Games, Melissa Bergesen and Brianna Daboub. 

Defensively, the Trojans held San Diego State to just 1-for-8 on 6-on-5 opportunities. MPSF All-Newcomer goalkeeper Amanda Longan started in cage for the Trojans and stopped six shots (she conceded two of the goals), while Brazilian national team goalie Victória Chamorro picked up four saves in reflief.

Looking for its first national title since 2013, USC will play Michigan in the semifinals. San Diego State, making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2008 when it was a member of the MPSF (the Aztecs got an auto-bid this year as champions of the Golden Coast Conference), will play the loser of ASU-Michigan in consolation action.

Arizona State

Making their second NCAA tournament appearance, the Sun Devils are the only Pac-12 team to not move on to the semis, losing to CWPA champion Michigan 5-4 in a heartbreaking defensive struggle. Arizona State, which nabbed the last at-large bid to the National Collegiate Water Polo Championship, did not score until the second quarter but stayed in the game the whole way thanks to solid 5-on-6 and even-strength defense – Michigan was 0-for-4 on the power play – and great goalkeeping from second-team all-MPSF cagemaster Mia Rycraw, who ended up with 13 saves.

Trailing 4-3 late in the fourth, two-time Chinese Olympian Ao Gao lasered one past Michigan goalie Julia Campbell on the power play to even the score with 1:24 remaining. Arizona State then had a chance to go ahead in the final minute, but a contrafoul gave the ball back to Michigan and Allison Skaggs poked home the game-winner with four seconds left, jostling the ball free from Rycraw, who looked like she had a sure steal.

Gao scored three goals to lead the Sun Devils, who will now try to match their fifth-place finish that they produced in their first NCAA tournament showing in 2014. ASU will face San Diego State on Saturday. For Michigan, this was its first opening-round victory in the NCAA tournament in program history.

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