The surprise leader of the women’s water polo pack at the quarter-mile mark are the Bruins of UCLA. Head Coach Adam Wright has forged an undefeated record by winning close contests—UCLA has beaten USC and Michigan by one—and blowing out lesser teams. Overall, the Bruins have outscored their opponents 239 to 83.[Collegiate Water Polo Association 2022 Women’s Varsity Poll – Week 5 / February 23]
This is not to say Wright and his players should be comfortable at the top; UCLA is the third team this season to lead the Collegiate Water Polo Association women’s poll; five weeks into play both USC and Cal have already been toppled. That trend is likely to be tested this weekend at the annual Barbara Kalbus Invitational is staged at UC-Irvine. The big story out of Irvine is the absence of #3 Cal, which experienced a COVID-19 outbreak necessitating the Golden Bears to skip what is the biggest non-conference tournament of the women’s season.[2022 Barbara Kalbus Invitational Tournament Page]
No matter: 14 of the 15 participants at Kalbus are ranked, including eight of the Top 10. The only absences are Cal and—surprisingly—#8 Fresno State. There will be no blood in the water this weekend at the Anteaters’ pool, but if UCLA and USC meet in the final it will likely be a memorable match.
1) UCLA (17-0; 2-0 MPSF); Anyone who predicted the Bruins would be on top of the polls going into the Kalbus Invite should get to Draft Kings and bet on Super Bowl 57. But the formula has been classic UCLA; find a dedicated leader (two-time Olympian Maddie Musselman – 40 goals, 20 assists—both team highs) and mix that player with a core of hyper-focused freshmen. Emma Lineback (27 goals, 19 assists) and Molly Renner (21 and 8). Throw in spectacular play from senior Ava Johnson (20 goals and 44 exclusions drawn) and tremendous netminding by red-shirt junior Georgia Phillips (6.22 GAA with 178 saves). Can anyone say 2017? That’s when the Bruin men snuck in for an NCAA title in what was surmised to be a rebuilding year. UCLA Beat UC-Davis and UC-San Diego Friday; on Saturday they face either Hawai’i or Michigan.
2) USC (9-1; 1-0 MPSF); If you don’t think the Trojans won’t go all out to win a third-straight Kalbus Invite—especially if it includes revenge against the Bruins for a one-goal defeat two weeks ago in San Diego—you’ve missed the whole point of “Fight On” and USC pride. A big win last weekend over MPSF rival Cal will do nothing to cool the fires of revenge for a Trojan program that has lost only FIVE times in four years (against 70 wins)—and three of those losses are to UCLA. The (latest) road to revenge opened with a win over Pomona-Pitzer, the Trojans face MPSF foe Arizona State Saturday.
3) Cal-Berkeley (11-1; 0-1 MPSF); There’s no question that the Golden Bears’ withdrawal from the Kalbus Invite due to COVID-19 is potentially a significant blow to what has been the best start in Coralie Simmon’s six seasons in Berkeley. It’s possible to speculate that the virus was partially responsible for Cal’s dismal performance last weekend at Uytengsu. Ruby Swadling, Rozanne Voorvelt and Shea Salvino (15 shots) took more than half of the Golden Bears’ attempts on USC goalie Carolyne Stern; Olympians Kitty Lynn Joustra and Emma Wright took four (and hit on three of them). The hope is they all recover quickly; next week top-ranked UCLA is scheduled to visit Berkeley.
4) Stanford (8-1); The Cardinal have been off the past two weeks and return to play against their last opponent, San Diego State, who they beat 19-4 at the tail end of the Stanford Invitational. By sitting out the Triton Invitational, Head Coach John Tanner’s team likely did what they do best: work together. The proof was seen first in a return date against the Aztecs, who on Friday lost 20-6 to the Cardinal. Next up Saturday are tournament hosts, UCI; it appears that Stanford is on a collision course with USC later today.
5) Hawai’i (7-2); A two-goal loss to the Trojans two weeks ago—balanced by an overtime win against Michigan to take third at the Triton Invite—should put the Rainbow Wahine in a good frame of mind going into Kalbus competition. Likely out of the battles at the top of the poll, Head Coach Maureen Cole’s task is to steer her team into position to beat UCI, Long Beach State and UC San Diego in Big West play. It’s likely they’ll meet the 49ers on Sunday in a non-conference match-up, which will be ideal.
6) Michigan (8-5); It there’s any team from outside of California that can challenge the Big Four—Cal, Stanford, UCLA, USC—it’s the Wolverines. Head Coach Marcelo Leonardi knows that to be the best you’ve got to play the best; the Kalbus Invite, where they opened Friday with a narrow win over Big 10 rival Indiana, is his team’s third out of state tournament in the season’s first five weeks. Clearly, this will take time; the Wolverines’ five losses in 2022 have come against higher ranked opponents. The worm will turn when Michigan if can win one-goal games against Hawai’i and UCLA, rather than lose them.
7) UC-Irvine (10-3; 1-0); Hosting the Kalbus Invite for the past 15 years, the Anteaters have never won their own tournament. This year will be no exception; they opened with a win against UC-Santa Barbara to draw Stanford on Saturday. In 24 attempts UCI has never beaten the Cardinal. Tara Prentice, back for another season with the Anteaters, has not missed a beat, with team highs in goals (26) and exclusions drawn (31).
8) Fresno State (9-7); After four wins last weekend in their own tournament, the Bulldogs will rest this weekend—and skip the Kalbus Invite. In fact, Head Coach Natalie Benson’s squad has never participated in this tournament, a curious situation because as a Top-Ten team it would seem an appearance might verify the Bulldogs’ status among the nation’s best. Instead, FSU will face Santa Clara in a Golden Coast Conference match-up on Saturday.
9) Arizona State (6-7); After opening their season with four losses, the Sun Devils appeared to have righted their ship, with three straight wins. Then they open Kalbus play with a 7-5 loss to Long Beach State, ending their win streak. Now Head Coach Todd Clapper’s squad will face Pomona-Pitzer—and will finish way back of the back in Irvine. Perhaps that slow start was signs of turbulent troubles in 2022.
10) UC-Davis (10-6); A victim of UCLA on Friday—a single win in 20 previous meetings that came in 1995—the Aggies rebounded to beat Big West rival UC San Diego in the afternoon. An important—it’s the second this season over the Tritons and sets UC-Davis up well in conference play. What will be even better is if the tournament chips fall so that they face Hawai’i tomorrow; the Aggies have both UCSD and the Rainbow Wahine on their Big West schedule next month.
11) UC-San Diego (8-6); The Tritons have already lost twice to UCLA; first time by five goals, the second by seven. Their match later today was a test as to whether they are at all closing the gap between the two team (or not). They’re not; after a tough loss to UC-Davis, UCSD lost by nine to UCLA. For Saturday there’s favorable match-up with UC-Santa Barbara.
12) San Jose State (9-8); If you’ve ever received a game report from Lawrence Fan, the Spartans’ Associate Athletic Director and SID for men’s and women’s polo, you are indeed fortunate. One of the nicest SIDs—he begins his recaps with: “Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,” Fan is incredibly through and polite. But not the SJSU team; they’re fighting tough this year, with two wins and two tough losses last weekend at the Fresno State Tournament, including a 12-9 defeat at the hand of the host Bulldogs. This weekend the Spartans are on the road at Cal State East Bay; then MPSF play begins with Arizona State visiting San Jose on March 5.[SJSU Legend Lawrence Fan Passes Away]
13) Long Beach State (8-7); The Beach has been on a roller coaster so far in 2022. Three straight wins to open their season, followed by four straight losses, then a win, a loss, three more wins and a loss last weekend to FSU to close out their stay at the Fresno Invite. LBS opened with a huge win over Arizona State, perhaps the start of another run for Head Coach Gavin Arroyo’s squad? Actually, it put them in a match on Saturday with USC, so that win streak will have to wait.
14) Wagner (10-2); The Seahawks are off to their best start in program history. They’ve scored a record 202 goals in those 12 games, including 29 against Siena and 25 against Gannon, Mercyhurst and VMI. Abbey Simshauser had 33 goals, Sofia Diaz Alvarez has 30 and Andrea Arias has 29. Riding an 8-match win streak; one might wonder if—after a year off because of COVID—if anyone can stop the Seahawks. MAAC rivals LaSalle and St. Francis Brooklyn are next up, today at the Marist Invitational.
15) UC-Santa Barbara (9-5); Behind the spectacular play of Caitlyn Snyder (25 goals, 32 assists) and Nina Munson (26 goals and 14 assists), the Gauchos have thrived. Snyder is a red-shirt junior and has been a stabilizing force after a roster turnover from last season. Munson is a freshman, one of 17 first-year players on Head Coach Serela Kay’s squad. There are only five upper classmen on the UCSB roster—and one, senior Amanda Legaspi, has not played a minute—making this year an almost total rebuild. A loss Friday to UC Irvine puts the Gauchos into a favorable match Saturday against San Diego State.
16) Pacific (3-6); The Tigers dropped a decision to Brown last week; Pacific has its worst early season record since 2020, the season cancelled due to COVID. Before that, Head Coach James Graham’s squad was 3-7 in 2016—and still made it to the GCC final that year, where the Tigers lost by a goal to San Diego State. Will this Pacific team, with 16 upper classmen, including seven graduate students and two seniors, turn things around? Next match: UC Davis next Friday.
17) Indiana (5-7; 0-1 MPSF); With a loss Friday to Big 10 rival Michigan on the first day of the Kalbus Invite, Head Coach Taylor Dodd’s squad has dropped four-straight matches. Of those losses, all but one has been to teams ranked higher in the polls than the Hoosiers. A match-up Saturday with Loyola Marymount becomes critical; can Indiana win the matches they are favored in? Next weekend they are in Cambridge for the Harvard Invite against teams—the host Crimson, Brown, Cal Lutheran and Wagner—perhaps more compatible with their talent. Except their conference is the MPSF, home to the nation’s best.
18) Loyola Marymount (4-6); A 20-5 loss Friday to Hawai’i may look bad on the scoresheet but means absolutely nothing in terms of the Lion’s NCAA hopes. In fact, outside of Fresno State, the GCC looks wide open, with only the Bulldogs and Pacific ranked higher than LMU. With all his foreign-born athletes back after a COVID break—including Marialena Seletopoulou from Greece and Kelsey Snelgar from New Zealand—Head Coach Kyle Witt should have enough offense. Outside of one-sided losses to Arizona State and now Hawai’i, LMU has been in every match—a good sign going into GCC play, which begins March 19 against San Diego State.
19) Harvard (9-1); The Crimson have gotten off to the best start in program history, with a seven-match win streak and junior goalie Zoe Banks playing extremely well. Harvard should win handily this weekend against a trio of CWPA foes—St. Francis, Mount St. Mary’s and Bucknell. Question is, how well prepared will Head Coach Ted Minnis’ team be when they face Michigan on April 2 down at Princeton? The Wolverines are (by far) the class of the conference—and therefore the team to beat if the Crimson want to qualify for their first-ever NCAA tournament (besides hosting in 2013).
20) Princeton (10-2; 3-0 CWPA); With a 22-8 win yesterday over Mount St. Mary’s, the Tigers have stretched their winning streak to eight, and already have three wins in conference play. Derek Ellingson, the Princeton head coach, has the same problem as Minnis at Harvard: there’s only one team that they have to beat: Michigan. But there’s also pride; the Tigers love to torment Ivy League rivals, and Brown is on the docket for tomorrow in Lewisburg, PA. As is St. Francis University—a 10-3 victim two weeks ago in New Jersey. Today they’ll face host Bucknell; perhaps telling is that Princeton will NOT attend next weekend’s Harvard Invite, choosing to take another trip out West for more seasoning. After tomorrow’s SFU match, the Tigers play seven-straight West Coast opponents.
21) San Diego State (1-6); A season delayed by COVID—the Aztecs were scheduled to open last month in beautiful Hawai’i—has turned into a very tough start for Head Coach Carin Crawford. A 20-6 loss Friday to Stanford puts her team in a match-up with UC-Santa Barbara. Looks like Crawford’s senior-laden squad, which includes Lucia Carballo, Zoe Morgan, Raquel de Pinho and Spencer Samuel, needs to dig deep for wins.
22) LIU (7-4); The Sharks might appear to be one-dimensional; as goes Paolo Dominguez, so goes LIU. Yesterday at the Tina Finali Invitational, Dominguez—the Sharks’ leading scorer with 39 goals, poured in 13 goals in two games. This is the third time this season the junior from Hialeah, Florida has registered double digits in goals on a single day. However, for Head Coach Gabby Juarez’s team to beat Marist and Wagner in MAAC play, they’ll need Elena Camerena, Jeannet Garcia, Kate Hinrich and others to contribute.[California Trip Crucial to LIU Women’s Water Polo Title Hopes]
23) California State-Northridge (5-4); The Matadors (wow, WHAT a mascot!) have thrived against lesser opponents while knocking off opponents ranked above them—notably Marist and San Diego State. They’ve already picked up two wins at the Finali Invite and have a winnable game Saturday morning against Cal State Monterey Bay. A Saturday afternoon meeting in Thousand Oaks against LIU should be a useful measuring stick for both programs.
24) Brown (9-5); A win last week against #16 Pacific in Santa Clara was huge for Head Coach Felix Mercado’s team. Not only did it cap off a 4-0 weekend for his team, but the Bears also beat a ranked opponent for the first time since 2019. They will look to keep that momentum going this weekend at Bucknell, with matches against CWPA opponents St. Francis University, the host Bison and Ivy League rival Princeton.
25) Marist (7-7); After a slow start, the Red Foxes have won five of their last six; the only blemish being a loss to Pacific. An itinerant team—Head Coach Chris Vidale will take his team on four Western swings this season—Marist is at home this weekend for its own tournament. The Courtney Fischer Invite is named for Fischer, who in 2016 was tragically killed following her freshman year. Certainly, the memory of a fallen teammate will motivate Vidale’s athletes; that and two beatable opponents—Mercyhurst and MAAC rival St. Francis Brooklyn—should make for an enjoyable stay in Poughkeepsie.