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

 

All four Pac-12 teams that made the NCAA tournament won their quarterfinal games, setting up an all-Pac-12 semifinal. Top-seeded UCLA will take on Cal in one Final Four matchup, while defending-champion USC squares off against Stanford in the other.

USC

Quarterfinal #4: No. 3 Seed USC 12, Michigan 6

USC's stifling first-half performance helped carry the Trojans to a 12-6 win over Michigan in a 2016 NCAA semifinal rematch and place them in a 2017 semifinal clash with Stanford Saturday afternoon. The Trojans used a 6-0 run spanning the first and second quarters to take a 7-1 lead late in the first half before going into halftime up 7-2. 

Jovan Vavic's bunch gapped the Wolverines further by taking a 10-3 lead into the fourth quarter before the Wolverines made a very slight push in the final frame, inching within 10-5 and 11-6 but never closer.

First-team All-MPSF senior and conference leading scorer Stephania Haralabidis scored two goals alongside all-conference frosh and second team all-MPSF honoree Maud Megens to pace the Trojans, while Ioanna Haralabidis (Stephania's twin sister) added one goal and three assists to help USC improve to 29-3. Jovan Vavic employed three goalkeepers, with starter Amanda Longan compiling 10 saves against two goals, reserve and Brazilian National Team goalie Victoria Chamorro adding eight while allowing three to slip past and Holly Parker stopping three shots against one goal.

USC was efficient on the power play, going 5-for-9 on the 6-on-5. Michigan was 3-for-6 on extra-player opportunities.

Caroline Anderson added two goals and one assist to lead the Wolverines, who finish the season 28-9 after winning the CWPA title for the second year in a row.

 

Stanford

Quarterfinal #3: No. 2 Seed Stanford 13, Pacific 6

Stanford picked up its defensive intensity in the second half, defeating a strong Pacific squad 13-6 after limiting the Tigers to just one goal over the final 16 minutes. With the win, Stanford meets USC for a 2 p.m. PT semifinal bout Saturday afternoon.

Pacific hung tough for a good chunk of the game, pulling even at 2-2 late in the first quarter and leveling things up again at 3-3 early the second before Stanford went on a 4-0 run and took an 8-5 lead into halftime. Stanford extended its lead to 11-6 after three quarters before keeping the Tigers out of the cage and tacking on a couple more of its own in the fourth.

Pacific head coach James Graham, known for employing the water polo equivalent of Moneyball-esque tactics, utilized a defense that put two field players on the goal line in addition to the goalkeeper, allowing Stanford to have more uncontested looks from the perimeter but making it tougher for the Cardinal to squeeze shots into the net. The Tigers made the Cardinal work in the half court, but Stanford's world-class talent was too much to bottle up on the counterattack. Olympian Makenzie Fischer led the Cardinal with four goals, while two-time Olympic MVP Maggie Steffens added three goals and three assists. Gabby Stone, who didn't play in the 2016 collegiate season to train with the United States Women's National Team, compiled five saves in three quarters of work.

Mariana Duarte scored four goals to lead Pacific.

All 13 of Stanford's tallies were natural goals, as the Cardinal was just 0-for-2 on the power play. Meanwhile, Pacific went 2-for-4 on its 6-on-5 opportunities.

With a win on Saturday against either USC or Michigan, the Cardinal will advance to its eighth consecutive national championship game. Pacific finishes up its season at 21-9 after winning its first Golden Coast Conference title and making its first NCAA appearance. The Tigers' No. 8 national ranking heading into the NCAA tournament is the highest in program history. It was also win No. 500 for coach John Tanner.

Quarterfinal #2: Cal 9, No. 4 Seed UC Irvine 7

California

In a game that turned out to be a lot closer than one would expect after three quarters, Cal survived a shaky fourth quarter to squeeze past UC Irvine 9-7 and earn a semifinal date with UCLA on Saturday. The Golden Bears saw a six-goal fourth-quarter lead cut to two on multiple ocassions before time ran out on the Anteaters.

UC Irvine, which was held to one goal through the first 24 minutes and trailed 7-1 in the fourth quarter, went on a 5-1 run to slice the deficit to 8-6 with 2:25 remaining. Canadian national team member and Cal lefty Emma Wright rattled the cage to put the Golden Bears back up three with 1:38 left before UC Irvine struck one final time on a Mary Brooks lamp-lighter 15 seconds later. UC Irvine regained possession down 9-7 but a ball under was called on the Anteaters to seal the deal for Cal.

Cal struck first thanks to Stephanie Mutafyan cashing in a one-on-none at the 6:20 mark of the first quarter and took a 4-1 lead after one quarter thanks to good ball movement leading to goals for Kacey Avalos and Carla Carrega and a 5-meter penalty shot from the lethal Dora Antal. Cal extended its lead to 6-1 by halftime and tacked on another in the third quarter to take a 7-1 lead heading into what turned out to be a tenuous frame. The Anteaters got back into the game on the strength of their power play, scoring five 6-on-5 goals in the fourth quarter and finishing 5-for-7 on the power play.

Cal, which went 3-for-7 on the 6-on-5, was led in the scoring department by two goals apiece from Antal, Avalos and Wright. Madeline Trabucco stopped nine shots in cage while allowing one goal, and Madison Tagg came on in relief in the fourth quarter and did not make a save.

Now set to face the Bruins in the semifinals, first-year head coach Coralie Simmons will look to lead Cal to their first finals appearance since 2011 against her alma mater.

UC Irvine, which carried a 14-game winning streak into the NCAA Championships and won the Big West Championship by edging Long Beach State in overtime, wraps up its season at 23-7.

UCLA

Quarterfinal #1: No. 1 Seed UCLA 17, Wagner 2

UCLA looked every bit the part of a national-title contender Friday morning as the top-seeded Bruins downed Wagner 17-2 to advance to Saturday's semifinals. The Bruins, known for their MPSF-leading team defense, held the Seahawks scoreless for nearly the first 22 minutes of the game, as Wagner did not score until the 2:08 mark of the third quarter off a shot from Kimberly Watson.

By that time, Brandon Brooks' squad had put 13 past Wagner goalkeeper Emily Riddle, as UCLA led 6-0 after one quarter, 9-0 at halftime and 13-1 after 24 minutes. Olympic gold medalist and MPSF Newcomer of the Year Maddie Musselman, Mackenzie Barr, Alexis Angermund and Alexa Tielmann each scored three goals to pace UCLA, while Carlee Kapana stopped all eight shots she faced on frame and Hannah Storum came in for Kapana near the end of the third quarter and made four saves.

The Bruins were very efficient on the power play, converting on eight of their 12 6-on-5 opportunities, while limiting the Seahawks to just one extra-player advantage and keeping them out of the cage in that lone scenario.

Now on to the semifinals for the seventh straight season, UCLA will look to get one step closer to their first national championship since 2009. Congrats to MAAC champion Wagner on a fine 2017 season, one in which it won its first-ever NCAA tournament game by defeating UC San Diego 6-5 in the opening round.

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