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Cal Women's Water Polo's bid for 1st NCAA title ends with a semifinal loss to USC
Cal defeated Michigan 10-4 in the NCAA quarterfinal round in Ann Arbor on Friday
Cal Women’s Water Polo will have to wait at least another year for the program’s first NCAA title. Golden Bears’ 2022 run ended in the semifinal stage again after they lost 9-7 to the USC Trojans.
The match was very tight until just over a minute before the half. Emma Wright, who had scored on her first penalty attempt earlier, was denied the equalizer’s USC’s Carolyne Stern. USC quickly went ahead by two goals with a quick strike the other way and the Bears never came within a goal again.
Cal head coach Coralie Simmons had talked about how the Bears were more composed this year after the win over Michigan on Friday. Her team still needs to work on their composure against a tougher opponent like a USC (or a Stanford). One can easily see the Bears pressing for goals for the bulk of the second half and either turned the ball over with bad passes or shot the ball into tight coverage (often two or three defenders in addition to the goalie).
USC went ahead by four goals before the Bears finally scored two goals to make the final margin more palatable.
Looking ahead, this Cal team has got some quality young players who could become both better in their collegiate career and possibly be future USA “Calympians”. Golden Bears will definitely miss Emma Wright (a hat trick in this semifinal), their Canadian “Calympian” leader who is also the Canadian National Team’s captain, but several more Olympians in the other contenders may also be graduating.
Goalie Isabel Williams has been a revelation this season. She’s certainly playing at a championship-contending level and made four penalty saves this weekend.
Let’s hope that the valuable experiences this weekend will pay off for members of this team either next year or the year after.
As expected, the 2022 NCAA Women’s Water Polo Championship Final Four will be No.1 Stanford vs. No.4 UCLA in one semifinal and No.2 USC vs. No.3 Cal in the other semifinal. Cal hopes to join Stanford, USC, and UCLA as only the 4th school to ever lift this trophy.
In the quarterfinal round on Friday, Cal defeated host Michigan 10-4 to advance. Cal fans can watch a full replay of this match for free on the NCAA website. Cal has defeated Michigan three times this season.
It was a tight defensive struggle early. Bears scored the lone goal in the first quarter as Shea Salvino found the back of the net.
Cal keeper Isabel Williams was able to stop a penalty shot early in the second quarter.
Freshman Jessie Rose, sophomore Reagan Whitney, and fifth-year senior Emma Wright twice (203rd and 204th goals of her storied collegiate career) scored before the half to give the Bears a 5-2 lead.
Wright completed her hat trick as the Bears extended their lead to 8-3 going to the final quarter.
Joining Cal’s Canadian “Calympian” Emma Wright in scoring multiple goals in this match was Cal’s Dutch “Calympian” Kitty Lynn Joustra who scored two goals late after being in foul trouble early. Sophomore Ruby Swadling had three assists in this match.
Williams managed to make two more penalty shot stops in the fourth quarter for 12 total saves on the day as the Bears hold on for the 10-4 victory.
Isabel Williams was recently featured in the latest “Inside the Lair” article on Cal Bears dot com.
Recently, Williams was named to the All-MPSF First Team due to her leading the conference at 10.6 saves per game. She is also fourth on Cal's all-time single-season saves list with 223 heading into this weekend's NCAA Championship in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
When prompted why she chose to play goalie, she said: "I'm pretty tall."
She has done interesting stuff both inside and outside of the pool.
Williams is African American, and after George Floyd's murder in 2020, she led the efforts to craft a statement from the Cal women's water polo team. She also helped organize a Black Lives Matter event where members of her team and other Cal student-athletes walked 8.46 miles in acknowledgement of the 8 minutes, 46 seconds that Floyd was held forcibly down by Minneapolis police.
Representation matters, not only in Williams' community, but her sport, too. She wants to make the sport accessible and available. She has worked with the Alliance for Diversity and Equity in Water Polo (ADEWP) – a nonprofit advocating for inclusion and equity that provides education and opportunity to anyone who shares the love for water polo. According to ADEWP's website, there is a glaring 2018 statistic – throughout history only two Black men and one Black woman have been on a U.S. Olympic Roster.
Williams' wants to change this. "I want to make this sport more known because I can't imagine myself without water polo," she said. "I want to give people the opportunity regardless of what they look like to have the same opportunities I have. So much of this sport is giving back to it."
There are two African American players on the current Golden Bear women's squad. "You unconsciously notice when you go somewhere and don't look like anyone else," Williams said.
It is discouraging, she admits, but she chose Cal because of the close-knit team and the Berkeley environment. "You're more than a student-athlete in a swimsuit," Williams said. "You're a human being with goals, and you can do anything you want with that."
Earlier on the day, Stanford defeated Wagner 16-6. UCLA edged UC Irvine 8-7. USC routed Fresno State 15-9. On Saturday, Stanford vs. UCLA will be at noon PT while Cal vs. USC is scheduled for 2 PM PT. The NCAA Championship match will be Sunday at 1 PM PT. ESPNU will broadcast the championship match for the first time (long overdue) as water polo finally gets some TV coverage.
Cal (17-5) lost to USC (19-3) twice this season, a non-competitive 7-13 loss in the regular season and a late fade 8-10 in the MPSF tournament semifinal two weeks ago. Maybe the third time is the charm?
ROLL ON YOU BEARS!