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NCAA Women’s Water Polo semifinal: UCLA 14, Cal 11

Golden Bears will have to wait to earn that 1st NCAA national title in program history.

It will take a total team effort for the Cal Golden Bears to knock off top seed UCLA Bruins today in the NCAA semifinal.
Cal Women’s Water Polo Instagram

The first season of new head coach Coralie Simmons will end in the NCAA national semifinal as the California Golden Bears were eliminated by top overall seed UCLA 14-11 this afternoon. It was a very high scoring affair between the two familiar conference rivals. UCLA scored on the first possession and never really looked back (technically, the Bears equalized right away so the Bruins really didn’t look back until after their 2nd possession and goal). Lot of exclusions were called on both sides, and both teams took full advantage of the resulting power plays to make this semifinal easily the most goals scored out of the 4 meetings this year between these two teams.

Bears had a chance to close the gap to two goals late in the 3rd quarter, after freshman star Emma Wright (2 goals on the match) was disqualified for picking up 3 exclusion fouls, but appeared to have ran out of gas and their efforts were doomed by some ball handling mistakes. Cal’s Hungarian Calympian duo of Dora Antal (2 goals) and Anna Illes (team high 3 goals) led the way for the Golden Bears in scoring, but it was UCLA’s gold winning US Olympians Maddie Musselman (game high 5 goals) and Rachel Fattal that had the upper hand. UCLA will play the winner of the 2nd semifinal between USC and Stanford in the championship match tomorrow. UCLA, USC, and Stanford are the only schools to have won the NCAA women’s water polo championship since the founding of the championship in 2001. California Golden Bears will look to add their names to that short list next year.


After twice pushing top ranked UCLA Bruins to the brink only to fall just one goal short (11-12 early in the season, 8-9 in the MPSF tournament semifinal), California Golden Bears will look for that big breakthrough victory at the biggest stage (yet) of the year - the NCAA championship semifinal.

Bears took care of business in beating the 4th seed UC Irvine on Friday via a 9-7 result that appeared much closer than the reality. Cal had a commanding 7-1 lead going into the 4th quarter before the Anteaters’ furious comeback made things sort of interesting. No doubt about it, Bears would need to play a much more complete full 24 minutes (if not more) to get past the UCLA Bruins today.

The Bears advance. Cal holds off a late UCI rally to advance to tomorrow's semifinals against UCLA! #calwwpolo #gobears

A post shared by Cal Women's Water Polo (@calwwpolo) on

The Cal offense is led by 2x Hungarian Calympian Dora Antal who had 49 goals going into the weekend. Freshman Emma Wright and the other Hungarian Calympian Anna Illes are tied next with 36 goals apiece. Center Emlily Loughlin has 22 goals follow by Carla Carrega (who had a breakout year in 2016 with Antal, Illes, and the injured Roser Tarrago taking a redshirt year due to the Olympics) with 21 goals. Senior Madeline Trabucco is the main Cal goalkeeper although sophomore Madison Tagg has also seen time inside the cage. By the way, Tagg’s arrival into the match on Friday coincided with the UC Irvine comeback attempt.

UCLA Bruins are one of three schools to have won the NCAA championship in women’s water polo. The other two are fellow Pac-12 California schools in USC and Stanford. UCLA suffered a lone loss on the year early on to USC (as a part of USC’s long winning streak) before avenging for that loss later on the year. They are in the middle of a 13 match winning streak (which started with that 12-11 triumph over the Cal Bears).

Not counting the quarterfinal win over Wagner, the Bruins are lead by a pair of 2016 USA Olympians, who won Gold medals at Rio. Freshman Maddie Musselman lead the Bruins with 55 goals. Rachel Fattal, a redshirt senior, is 2nd with 40 goals. Alys Williams, who took last year off to try to make the US Olympic team but did not, is next with 38 goals. Senior Canadian national team member Alexa Tielmann also has 31 goals on the year. Inside the cage, sophomore Carlee Kapana is the Bruins’ main goalkeeper.

New to water polo? Here are some nice explanation of basic water polo rules, particularly the different kind of fouls, from USA Water Polo.

Keys to Cal success

1) Take advantage of power plays

This is the name of the game in college water polo. Not being a particularly great offensive team at full strength, Bears would need to take full advantage of all the 6 on 5 opportunities in this match; they did a great job of this in the quarterfinal victory over UC Irvine.

2) Outstanding match from senior goalkeeper Madeline Trabucco

Similar to how Cal men’s water polo goalie Lazar Andric dominated the NCAA men’s water polo championship (both semifinal and final) en route to earning the MVP of the NCAA tournament honor, Cal senior goalkeeper Madeline Trabucco may also need such an extraordinary effort for the Bears to pull off the upset.

One last time with these gals ‍♀️

A post shared by Madeline Trabucco (@madelinejane1) on

By the way, all 4 of the Cal Water Polo seniors - from left to right, Genevieve Weed, Emily Loughlin, Stephanie Mutafyan (who scored the first goal against Irvine on Friday), and Madeline Trabucco are big contributors for the Bears.

3) Attack the interior (at the 2-meter line)

Another key senior for the Bears is center Emily Loughlin, one of the few interior threat for the Bears. While the Bears will likely have the bulk of the offensive success from the perimeter thanks to the play of drivers Dora Antal, Emma Wright, Anna Illes, etc., everyone will get a lot more space to shoot if the Bears can attack into the space in front of the net. Attacking inside is often how a team can earn power play opportunities (exclusion fouls on the opponent) and cause certain key opposing player to possibly be disqualified (for picking up 3 exclusion fouls).

4) Finish the match strong

In the MPSF tournament semifinal match against UCLA few weeks ago, Bears had a late 3rd quarter 8-7 lead. Unfortunately, that was the last goal that the Bears were able to score in that match. Bears also had a late 4th quarter lead on USC (defending NCAA champs) in the MPSF 3rd place match before faltering. Year long fitness training is all leading up to this; Bears need to finish the match strong, particularly executing offensively, either with the lead or not.

5) Make shots!

This one is fairly self-explanatory and applies to almost all Cal sports.

Should the Bears find a way to prevail, they will take on the winner of USC/Stanford in the NCAA Championship match on Sunday at noon PT. I hope to be writing that preview tonight.

California Golden Bears (16-9) vs. No.1 UCLA Bruins (23-1)

Where: IUPUI Natatorium (Indianapolis, IN)

When: 12pm PT

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