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Cal Women's Water Polo earns 3rd place at MPSF Championships and a NCAA berth
Golden Bears will face host Michigan in the opening round on May 6th
Needing at least another major win over a Stanford, USC, or UCLA in their final three matches, Cal Women’s Water Polo came through on their last chance and earned a spot in the 2022 NCAA Championships. The Golden Bears are seeking to become only the 4th team to win this championship (yep, the other threes are Pac-12 foes Stanford, USC, and UCLA).
With all the Olympians back to collegiate women’s water polo this season, Cal (16-5) had a much stronger year than in 2021 when they went 12-7 and missed out on the postseason.
Of course, the other top teams have also gotten much stronger, especially with them getting back USA Olympians who have won the past three Gold medals. Then again, the Golden Bears proved to themselves and the rest of the collegiate women’s water polo world how this year might be different when they knocked off then No.1 Stanford 10-9 in OT in the 10th game of the season.
In fact, Cal has gone 2-4 against the other elite teams this year. Two of those losses were by the slim margin of 1 or 2 goals.
To win an NCAA championship, the Bears will need to beat two of the other elite teams again. Stanford (22-2), who the Bears are 1-1 against in 2022, is the top seed. USC (18-3), who bested Cal 2-0 this season, is the No.2 seed. Cal gets the 3rd seed ahead of UCLA (22-5).
Here is the full bracket of all 9 teams, including the three at-large bids that went to USC, Cal, and UCLA.
Cal had a late 13-14 (OT) loss to UC Irvine on April 2nd that knocked them in the rankings down to No.6 in the country. This put the Bears in a must-win situation to get at least one of Big Splash or another quality win in the MPSF Championships.
Despite a tough contest, Stanford pulled away late for an 11-8 win in the Big Splash on April 16th.
The Bears next gave then-No.1 USC a tough battle in the MPSF semifinals. Trojans had a slim 7-6 lead midway through the final quarter before pulling away for a 10-8 victory. Canadian “Calympian” Emma Wright had 4 goals and 2 assists. Junior goalkeeper Isabel Williams made 10 saves.
Cal would need to beat UCLA in the MPSF 3rd place match on Sunday to make the NCAA field.
Shorthanded this past weekend with offensive players Elli Protopapas and Maryn Dempsey out, the stage was set for a breakout weekend to Cal sophomore Ruby Swadling.
After scoring two goals against USC, Ruby Swadling registered 4 goals against UCLA, including this power-play goal below.
Climbing up the Cal all-time goal list is Emma Wright, who got this quick power-play goal for her 5th of the match. Wright had five goals and two assists to move into fourth place on Cal's all-time scoring list with 202 career goals. She also became the 47th MPSF player ever to reach 200 goals for a career.
The match was still in doubt until freshman Rozannee Voorvelt got the game-saving field block. Goalkeeper Isabel Williams also made 14 saves against the Bruins.
The dream of becoming the first Cal team to lift that NCAA women’s water polo trophy lives on! Golden Bears earned their spot in the NCAA tournament by edging UCLA 10-9 to claim 3rd place in the MPSF (but also the country).
Perhaps in anticipation of the NCAA tournament, Cal had made a regular season trip to Ann Arbor a few weeks ago. No.3 Cal drew host Michigan (26-8) in the opening round. Cal had defeated Michigan by a 13-8 score from the same pool as the upcoming NCAA Championship on March 25th. Cal had also beaten Michigan 12-8 from a neutral pool in Arizona State back on January 21st.
Should the Bears get past the Wolverines on May 6th, they will likely have a rematch against No.2 USC in the NCAA semifinals on May 7th. The NCAA Championship match will take place on May 8th.