UCLA Puts Perfect Season on the Line
The UCLA women's water polo team has had its share of success over the years, but this season has been one for the record books.
The Bruins boast a perfect 30-0 record €" the best mark by any team in the NCAA's five-year history of the sport. Their 30 straight wins is also a school mark for longest winning streak in a season.
"We're very talented," said sixth-year head coach Adam Krikorian. "I don't think you can go 30-0 without having a talented group of players." Krikorian is also the head coach of the UCLA men's water polo team.
UCLA is led primarily by its three returning Olympians, who sat out last season while winning a bronze medal for the United States at the 2004 Olympic Games.
Two of the three -- senior Natalie Golda and sophomore Kelly Rulon -- shared Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Co-Player of the Year honors for their outstanding performances this season. Golda scored 43 goals this year, while Rulon led the Bruins with 64 goals. The Bruins' third Olympian -- junior Thalia Munro -- garnered second-team All-MPSF honors and was the team's second-leading scorer with 49 goals.
"Those three are some of best players, not just in the country, but also in the world," said Krikorian.
As a team, the Bruins have given up just 124 goals in 30 games, or 4.1 per game, the lowest total and average in the nation.
"The strength of this team is our ability to play defense," said Krikorian 'I'd also like to think we're the fastest team in the country. I like to utilize our counter-attack and our fast-break to try to create some opportunities for us offensively."
Sophomore goalie Emily Feher has recorded 190 saves this season, and given up just 4.36 goals per game to lead the Bruins' stingy defense.
"Another key element to our success is our goal play," said Krikorian. "Emily Feher is goalie of the year in our conference, and in my eyes the best goalie in the country."
UCLA will put its perfect season on the line when the top-seeded Bruins play Wagner -- champions of the MAAC -- in the first round of the NCAA Championship. The University of Michigan will host the newly-expanded tournament at the Canham Natatorium in Ann Arbor on May 13-15. This year, the field has doubled from four to eight teams, adding a third day of competition.
"It's going to be a little more difficult than the four-team tournament, said Krikorian. "It's more difficult mentally in that you need to prepare for just one or two teams. We're going into this weekend preparing for four or five teams. It's also unquestionably more demanding physically, because you're playing three games in a row. This is possibly the most difficult sport to play in the world."
The expanded bracket will give more of the best teams an opportunity at the title, as well as involve more squads from different parts of the nation.
"It's great for our sport," said Krikorian. "I think it's awesome that a school like Wagner has the opportunity to go to NCAAs. I think that can only help our sport and the long term growth in our sport."
If the Bruins get past Wagner, they will most like play a familiar opponent in the semifinals. Southern California, Stanford and Hawaii €" also representing the MPSF €" round out the top four seeds. No. 5 Loyola Marymount won the Western Polo Association championship, while No. 6 Michigan advanced to nationals by winning the Collegiate Water Polo Association title. Seventh-seeded Redlands is the champion of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
"Whoever we end up playing, it probably won't be unfamiliar territory," said Krikorian. "I think all the teams in the top five know each other pretty well, and that usually lends itself to a little bit more competitive of a game."
With the UCLA men's team winning the NCAA Championship in the fall of 2004, the women are trying to give Krikorian his second national title of the school year.
"It's a very special bond that those teams have," said Krikorian. "They can support each other and really share their experiences with each other that will hopefully help the women's team this weekend."