March 30, 2009

 

By Trevor Freeman
Special to NCAA.com

Pure, unadulterated madness.  That is the only way to describe this past week of water polo as we had major developments both inside and outside of the pool.  We had overtimes and upsets.  It was a week that saw the fifth, seventh, eighth and ninth ranked teams in the country all take losses they could not afford.  However, none of that was the major news.  In a move that rocked the water polo world, the head coach of the four-time defending NCAA champions announced that he would be stepping down at the end of this season. 

UCLA head men’s and women’s coach Adam Krikorian will be assuming the head coaching job for the United States National Team.  With this new position, Krikorian is stepping down as head women’s coach for UCLA (he will remain on the men’s coaching staff).

Krikorian’s run with the UCLA women has been incredible.  He has compiled an overall record of 263-38 with seven national titles. Basketball had Mike Krzyzewski bringing home the gold in Beijing and women’s water polo has installed someone similar that can lead the U.S. to the top of the medal podium in 2012.

The response of the Bruins will bear watching.  This UCLA team has been electric since two early season stumbles at the Stanford Invitational.  Their only loss since then was to second-ranked USC and it was rife with controversy as a game-tying UCLA goal was disallowed.  This team has displayed both a champion’s chin and heart all season long and the news only makes them a more dangerous team down the stretch. 

Prior to the news officially coming out, UCLA played two games against 12th-ranked Hartwick and Brown Thursday night and the Bruins throttled both teams.  Both games followed a similar pattern as UCLA jumped out to a 7-0 first quarter lead against Hartwick and a 6-0 first quarter lead against Brown and then cruised.

The next opponent for the third-ranked Bruins will be top-ranked Stanford and the Cardinal warmed up for that affair by facing four top 20 opponents on the road last week.  Their first contest was against 16th-ranked UC San Diego.  The Cardinal used a strong third period to pull away from the Tritons and score an 11-5 victory.  The next day, the Cardinal faced off with a fifth-ranked San Diego State team that was desperate for a marquee victory.  The Cardinal broke open a 7-5 game in the fourth quarter with three straight goals and then held the Aztecs at bay to win 11-6. 

Life got no easier for Stanford when they left San Diego as the Cardinal faced off with ninth-ranked UC-Irvine the day after that San Diego State contest.  This game went much the same way as the two games in San Diego, as the Cardinal used a big quarter to break open the game.  Against the Anteaters, the Cardinal scored three straight goals to open the second half and turn a 7-5 halftime lead into a commanding 10-5 advantage.  The final score was 14-7 and Lauren Silver was once again the high scorer as she found the back of the net four times.  The final game of Stanford’s road trip was against 17th-ranked Long Beach State.  Stanford was able to jump out to a 3-0 first quarter lead and then held the scrappy 49ers at bay for the rest of the contest to win 7-2. 

Second-ranked USC only had one game this week and it was against San Diego State.  A strong start lifted USC in this contest as they jumped out to a 2-0 first quarter lead and a 5-1 lead at the half.  The Women of Troy held off the Aztecs in the second half to win 10-7.  Seven Trojans scored with Michelle Stein’s three goals leading the way.

The race for an NCAA at-large bid was in full display on both the campuses of Hawaii and Arizona State.  Two of the leaders for what is likely to be one bid faced off in Honolulu on Saturday afternoon when the fourth-ranked Rainbow Wahine of Hawaii took on sixth-ranked Cal.  From all accounts, this was an intense, high-level affair played almost like an elimination game for the NCAA tournament.  Tied 5-5, Kelly Mason from Hawaii drilled a shot from distance to give the Rainbow Wahine a crucial 6-5 win. 

Hawaii now stands at 2-4 in the MPSF and can get to 3-4 if they beat San Diego State next week.  Meanwhile, California falls to 2-3 in the MPSF with home games remaining against Arizona State and Stanford.  Getting to 3-4 is crucial for both of these teams as that is where San Jose State finished conference play.  All three of these squads want to get either the four or five seed which ensures a game against each other prior to a game against a USC, Stanford or UCLA in the semifinals of the MPSF Tournament.  Whichever team drops to the sixth seed will play one of the “Big Three” in the first round.  Currently, the team most likely to slide to the sixth seed line is fourth-ranked Hawaii.  That observation is based off of a quick study of the MPSF tiebreaker guidelines.  All three teams split with each other which means the second tiebreaker of goal differential comes into play.  California wins this as their conference win over San Jose State was by five goals and their loss to Hawaii was only by one.  Once Cal is established as the fourth seed and separated from the two other tied teams, it reverts back to who won the conference matchup between the remaining tied teams.  San Jose State won that game and will therefore get the fifth seed if the three-way tie plays out.

In Tempe, sixth-ranked San Jose State, eighth-ranked Arizona State and ninth-ranked UC-Irvine were all facing off.  Saturday saw the clash between San Jose State and Arizona State and the Spartans won 19-14 to close out MPSF conference play at 3-4.  San Jose State is the hot team in the at-large derby and they used a strong middle two quarters to defeat the Sun Devils.  San Jose State also played Cal Lutheran later in the day on Saturday and won 19-2.

Following that Saturday contest between San Jose State and Arizona State were Sunday games between ninth-ranked UC-Irvine and sixth-ranked San Jose State in the morning and between those same Anteaters and eighth-ranked Arizona State at night.  Big West favorite UC-Irvine desperately needed both of these games to bolster their at-large bid and they came up short on both occasions.  In the first contest, San Jose State stayed hot in defeating UC-Irvine 14-7. 

UC-Irvine then faced off with Arizona State and lost a heartbreaker as Lynlee Smith found the back of the net with 17 seconds left to give the Sun Devils an 11-10 win.  While Arizona State won that game, San Jose State was the major winner of the weekend.  This weekend confirms that the Spartans are a serious factor in the NCAA at-large race. San Jose State has six remaining regular season games before the MPSF Tournament kicks off.  San Jose State will be favored in all six of those contests and could very well be entering MPSFs on a 12-game winning streak.   

The Fluid Four was held this weekend at Indiana and it involved four very intriguing teams.  They were 14th-ranked Michigan, host and 18th-ranked Indiana along with Sonoma State and Maryland.  Michigan was the story as they extended their winning streak to 16 games by defeating all three teams.  Their closest contest was a one-goal thriller against Indiana.  Michigan won 7-6 and had to survive an Indiana power play in the last minute. 

There was a gigantic clash between Bucknell and host Princeton and outside of a small stretch in the fourth quarter, Bucknell controlled the entire contest in winning 9-7.  Freshman goalie Brittany Connell was outstanding for the Bison in her first career start as she saved seven shots in the Bison win.  Bucknell has now won five straight and eight out of their last 10 games.  Prior to the nationally televised clash with Bucknell, Princeton was caught looking ahead.  The Tigers were defeated on Friday night by Iona. 

The Roadrunner Invitational took place on the campus of Cal State Bakersfield and the showcase game was between the 19th-ranked host and 10th-ranked Loyola Marymount.  The matchup between the two WWPA powerhouses was an overtime thriller as Cal State Bakersfield rallied from being down 13-10 to tie the game at 13 and force the extra stanza.  However, Mary Ann Campos saved the day for Loyola Marymount by hitting a penalty shot in overtime to give the Lions the win.  LMU swept through all of their games at the Roadrunner Invitational as they also took down Whittier, Chapman and Cal State San Bernardino. 

In other games, Sonoma State made a statement prior to showing up for the Fluid Four as they whitewashed 20th-ranked Santa Clara, 12-4, behind three goals from Laurel Stricklin and two apiece from Holly Armijo, Samantha Mullins and Sarah Watt. In Big West action, 11th-ranked UC-Davis defeated 13th-ranked UCSB 12-7. 

Player to Watch

Brittany Connell, Bucknell, Fr.:  All she did in her first game as a starter was lead Bucknell to a key conference win on national television.

Contest To Keep An Eye On

Friday night in Palo Alto will be one of the biggest regular season clashes in years. UCLA travels to take on Stanford.  This contest is full of juicy subplots with the biggest being that it will be the most important game UCLA has played since the news broke about Krikorian.  Stanford belted UCLA, 10-5, earlier this season.  Since that game, UCLA has been on a warpath.