LA JOLLA, Calif. -- The 10th-ranked UC San Diego women’s water polo team got up early and survived a late rally from the Poets as the Tritons defeated Whittier by a final score of 11-7 in one of two NCAA Championship play-in games, Tuesday at the Canyonview Aquatic Center.
With an eighth straight win, the Tritons improve to 27-9 and move on to the championship bracket, held at UCLA’s Spieker Aquatics Center this Friday through Sunday, May 13-15. Whittier ends its season at 26-8.
Senior attackers Laurel Kistler and Julia Kirkland recorded hat tricks and led the Tritons with three goals each. Redshirt junior two-meter defender Alexis Wieseler, junior two-meter defender Lani Tittle, sophomore utility Kayla Fedler, junior center Lauren Boyer and freshman center Chanel Schilling added one each. Wieseler came up big on the defensive end with five steals. Senior attacker Emma Sasson was working the set up with four assists. Senior goalkeeper Courtney Miller amassed 12 saves in the cage.
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Isabella Gorrocino and Kaitlin Vera led Whittier with two scores each. Poet goalie Caitlin Bronzan compiled 12 saves.
Boyer and Kirkland put away the first two goals of the game. After a Poet score, Kirkland fired one home as UCSD led, 3-1, at the end of the first quarter.
Both teams traded goals in a you-score-I-score fashion in the second period as the Tritons put three in. In the first possession of the quarter, Sasson assisted Tittle as she found the back of the cage on a powerplay. Whittier responded with a goal, but Kistler stopped any momentum going towards the Poets way with a score of her own 29 seconds later. The Poets would strike once again, but Kistler answered with another goal to keep the margin at three. UCSD had the edge at halftime, 6-3.
The Triton defense came through in the third period, allowing no Whittier scores. Kistler completed her hat trick and Wieseler put one away to give UCSD an 8-3 advantage heading into the final frame.
The Tritons allowed four Poet goals in the fourth quarter, but came out with three of their own to escape with the win. Whittier’s Gorrocino scored two in the final period, both coming from outside five-meters. UCSD got its scores from Fedler, Schilling and Kirkland.
Canyonview Aquatic Center was also home to the other NCAA Championship play-in game as San Diego State defeated Wagner 7-4 to move on. The Aztecs will play top-seeded USC in the championship bracket.
The Tritons have their work cut out for them as they will play second-seeded and second-ranked UCLA, host of the NCAA Championship, at Spieker Aquatics Center on May 13, at 3 p.m. EST. Watch it live at NCAA.com.