May 14, 2010

By Kyle Kensing
Special to NCAA.com

SAN DIEGO - The semifinals of 2010 NCAA Women's Water Polo Championship will feature an L.A. story - but this tale has a surprise twist.

Third-seeded UCLA came into Friday's quarterfinal with a share of the nation's top ranking, a run of five consecutive national championships, and a potential Saturday match-up with cross-town rival USC looming.

Enter another Los Angeles-based program, Loyola Marymount, to rewrite the script in Act One with a 5-4 upset of UCLA.

The No. 6 Lions held UCLA scoreless over 22 minutes thanks to a stifling defense and stonewall performance by redshirt freshman goaltender Kristine Cato.

"Coming against a big name program...it's big for our program," said Cato.

That might be an understatement. The win was LMU's first over a top-ranked opponent, and first against UCLA. It also marks the only time a six seed has advanced to this tournament's semifinal round.

Friday wasn't the first encounter between the two teams. The Bruins defeated the Lions in an 8-4 decision April 8.

The sequel of LMU-UCLA would get a significant makeover.

"The more we prepared and the more we watched film on them, the more they became just any other team to us," senior Anne Scott said. Scott paced the Lion offense with a pair of goals.

With UCLA boasting such an impressive track record coming in and a previous defeat of LMU to its credit, the Lions could have been shaken. But Cato said confidence was no issue.

"My confidence grew with the defense in front of me," Cato said of her 11-save outing. "The first block got out all the jitters and from there...we couldn't let down."

The Lions didn't, answering an early UCLA challenge. The Bruins rattled off three goals in the first period, including one in the first minute that LMU coach Kyle Witt said could have rattled his squad.

"We had defensive mistakes and had to respond to that. No one on our team was upset," he said.

The only upset was reserved for UCLA, which was denied its bid to "six-peat" as national champions. The outcome guarantees the first new champion since 2004. The title game that season? USC defeated LMU.

Those same programs square off Saturday in the semifinal nightcap.

As for UCLA, it takes on Marist in the consolation bracket Saturday at 12:30 p.m.

"We were too disorganized in general," UCLA coach Brandon Brooks said. "At the end of the year you need to make the simple plays. We didn't.

"The [defensive] pressure got to us," Brooks added. "And their goalie came up with some saves. They were doing a good job defensively, they were active...and I think that threw us off a bit."

UCLA saw its initial lead slip away midway through the second period when LMU junior Daisy Carrillo tied it on a penalty shot. Mary Ann Campos scored on a strike with 41 seconds left in the half to put the Lions ahead for good.

The Bruins saw daylight late when KK Clark scored with 1:22 remaining to make the count 5-4, Lions.

UCLA had a look to tie nearly a minute later, but Clark fired an attempt that sailed past the goal with nearly 20 seconds left in the shot clock, and effectively ended the match.

"It's always hard to stay on top," said UCLA junior Priscilla Orozco. "We didn't focus on the five championships, we were just trying to get another one."

LMU can record another program first in tomorrow's match-up. The Lions have never beaten the Women of Troy.

"We were definitely celebrating [the defeat of UCLA]," Cato said. But [in] the same token, we have USC tomorrow. We still have the mindset of winning an NCAA championship."

Regardless of tomorrow's outcome, today's win guaranteed LMU some history, a fact not lost on Witt.

"I couldn't be more proud of this program. I'd like to thank [former head coach] John Loughran for this opportunity," Witt said. "This one's for him."