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UCLA Bruin Bites: Conference Champions Edition

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In a busy weekend of conference tournament action, the UCLA women's water polo team captured the MPSF tournament championship, and UCLA's Catherine Harrison claimed the Pac-12 Championship Singles trophy.

@uclawtennis

2015 Women's Water Polo MPSF Champions

Photo Credit: @Pac12Networks

Women's Water Polo

Congratulations to the 2015 MPSF Tournament Champions! On Sunday, the Bruins thwarted a dogged comeback attempt by the #4 Golden Bears to capture the conference tournament title with a 9-8 victory.

The Bruins had advanced to the final by defeating #3 Southern Cal 9-7, while Cal's path to the title game involved an 8-7 semifinal upset of top-ranked Stanford.

In the final, Cal took an early lead when Roser Tarrago fired a shot from distance past Bruins' goalkeeper Sami Hill. But the Bruins didn't trail for long, levelling the score when India Forster scored on a pass from Alys Williiams less than 30 seconds later. At the end of an aggressively played first quarter, the score was even at one apiece.

The Bruins took their first lead of the game a minute after the restart. An exclusion on Tarrago gave UCLA a player advantage, and Emily Donohoe slotted home the power play goal. Less than thirty seconds later, the Bruins returned the favor; Rachel Fattal earned an exclusion, and Cal knotted the score at two with a power play goal.

Both teams continued to struggle from open play due to incredibly aggressive defensive tactics, but the defensive pressure came at a price. Alys Williams scored a power play goal for the Bruins on Cal's second exclusion of the quarter, and a minute later, the Bruins scored another power play goal when Emily Donohoe scored her second of the game.

Cal also took advantage of an exclusion when Tarrago collected a rebound from her own shot and put her second effort past Sami Hill to net the Golden Bear's third goal. At halftime, UCLA was clinging to a one-goal lead, 4-3.

The Bruins regained their two-goal lead within 30 seconds of the restart. India Forster took a terrific pass from Kodi Hill and scored UCLA's fourth power play goal of the game. Roser Tarrago kept Cal in the contest with another outstanding individual effort at the 5:12 mark of the third. Nearing the end of the third quarter, Alys Williams scored again to push the Bruins to a 6-4 advantage heading into the final frame.

The game opened up a bit in the fourth quarter. Cal opened the scoring with a blistering shot from Kelly McKee, but Mackenzie Barr answered immediately for the Bruins when she redirected a pass from Kodi Hill past Cal goalkeeper Madeline Trabucco. It was Kodi Hill's fourth assist of the game.

Less than thirty seconds later, Cal was back within one when Tarrago scored on the power play for Cal. More importantly, it was the third exclusion of the game for UCLA's Rachel Fattal, which meant that her day was finished.

Kodi Hill scored on the Bruins' next possession when she dropped her shot over the Cal 'keeper and into the far corner of the cage. When Mackenzie Barr scored her second of the game on a power play just shy of the four minute mark, the Bruins held a 9-6 advantage.

With a three-goal lead in hand in the final minutes of the game, the Bruins became much more deliberate in attack. That led to a string of empty possessions which allowed Cal to play more aggressively. Cal clawed one goal back with a power play goal by Dora Antal, and when Cal scored another with 1:11 left in the game, the Golden Bears were within one again.

Nevertheless, the Bruins continued to play passively on the offensive end, so it fell to the UCLA defense and goalkeeper Sami Hill to shutdown Cal the rest of the way. Rose Tarrago came close to scoring in the final 30 seconds when she skipped a shot towards the far post, but Sami Hill was there to gather it in and preserve the UCLA lead. The Bruins then killed the clock to end Cal's comeback attempt.

It was a well-deserved victory and championship for our women's water polo team. Although there would have been extra satisfaction in beating Stanford, there is no doubt that the Bruins were the best team throughout the tournament.

As we've seen all season long, the Bruins utilized a balanced scoring attack. Alys Williams, India Forster, Mackenzie Barr and Emily Donohoe each scored a brace, and Kodi Hill added a goal and four assists. Sami Hill registered nine saves. Although Roser Tarrago's four goals earned her Player of the Game honors, I rated Sami Hill as the outstanding player of the tournament.

As I speculated in my tournament preview, the tournament results had important NCAA tournament seeding implications. The Bruins have earned the top seed in the NCAA tournament and will face the winner of the play-in game between UC San Diego and Whittier College. According to the NCAA bracket, UCLA's first round game is scheduled for May 8th at 3:30 PM PDT in Palo Alto.

By the way, UCLA's Brandon Brooks has been named 2015 MPSF Coach of the Year. Additionally, Sami Hill and Rachel Fattal have been selected to the All-MPSF First Team, Kodi Hill and Emily Donohoe have been named to the All-MPSF Second-Team, and Alys Williams has earned All-MPSF Honorable Mention distinction. The Bruins also placed two freshmen on the All-MPSF Newcomer Team: attacker Devin Grab and center Alexis Angermund.

Congratulations!

Women's Tennis

UCLA's women's tennis team was well-represented in Ojai for the 2015 Pac-12 Championship and Invitational tournaments. For the third consecutive year, a Bruin brought home the Pac-12 Championship Singles trophy when Catherine Harrison defeated Cal's Klara Fabikova, 6-4, 6-0. Harrison advanced through the five-round single-elimination tournament without dropping a set. The two previous winners of the Pac-12 Singles Championship are Harrison's teammates, Kyle McPhillips (2013) and Jennifer Brady (2014).

Although Catherine got off to a slow start on Sunday, dropping the first two games against Fabikova, she finished strong, winning 12 of the last 14 games of the match. In fact, Harrison has been playing fantastic tennis for nearly two months--her winning streak now extends to 16 matches dating back to the first week of March.

UCLA's Terri Fleming also played in a final on Sunday. After beating teammate Kaitlin Ray in a Pac-12 Invitational Singles semifinal, Fleming didn't fare well in the final, though, losing 6-2, 6-3 to Meredith Xepoleas of USC. Nevertheless, Fleming played some great tennis over the course of the tournament, and she deserves credit for an impressive and unexpected run to the tournament final.

In addition to Catherine Harrison's triumph, the Bruins won the Thatcher Cup based on UCLA's results throughout the entirety of Pac-12 tournament play. Congratulations to Catherine and to all of her teammates on their accomplishments in Ojai!

Meanwhile, the seventh-ranked Bruins are gearing up for a defense of their national title. The NCAA tournament bracket is set, and the Bruins have earned the privilege of hosting first and second round action. UCLA's first round opponent is Idaho, with the match scheduled for May 9th at the Los Angeles Tennis Center.

Mini Bites

Men's Tennis

The performance of our #15 men's tennis team at the 2015 Pac-12 tournament was disappointing, frankly. As expected, the Bruins dispatched the Huskies 4-0 in the quarterfinals, though the Bruins' tennis wasn't as impressive as the scoreline suggests. On the following day, in a semifinal against the eighth-ranked Trojans, UCLA never got a foothold in the match and lost 4-1. It was UCLA's third defeat at the hands of USC this season.

The Bruins looked sluggish at the start of doubles play. On court 1, the Bruins' top doubles team of Mackenzie McDonald and Martin Redlicki were trounced 0-8, and on court 2, the Bruins' second doubles team of Karue Sell and Joseph Di Giulio didn't fare much better, losing 2-8.

With the loss of the doubles point, UCLA briefly appeared to wake up and give the Trojans some problems in singles. McDonald claimed the first set on court 1, and Redlicki and Dennis Mkrtchian followed suit with first set wins. Austin Rapp eventually won his first set as well, and suddenly the Bruins had a platform for mounting a challenge.

Unfortunately the results in the second sets weren't favorable; only McDonald managed to claim his second set. By the time McDonald had won his matchup to earn the Bruins' first point of the day, the Trojans had already taken the singles point on court 6, and would soon claim the singles point on court 4. When USC's Max de Vroome came back to earn the singles point on court 5, it was all over for the Bruins.

In spite of a lackluster Pac-12 tournament performance against the Trojans, the NCAA awarded UCLA the No. 16 seed for the NCAA tournament, which means that the Bruins will host a first round match.

According to the NCAA tournament bracket, UCLA's opponent in the opening round of the tourney is Florida Gulf Coast (17-5). The match will be played on May 8th at the Los Angeles Tennis Center.

Men's Volleyball

I had expectations that our #12 men's volleyball team would rise to the occasion in their difficult quarterfinal match against #2 UC Irvine in the MPSF tournament. The Bruins had looked stronger in the last few games of the regular season, and in particular, had turned in an impressive performance in sweeping Stanford to clinch a tournament berth. But on Saturday, the Bruins were outclassed by a fundamentally sound and experienced Anteaters squad.

The Anteaters controlled net play from the start. The Bruins couldn't tame the UCI attack, and were often slow to close out blocks. That allowed UCI to hit an extremely efficient .481 for the match, leaving the Bruins constantly playing catch up. Although the Bruins have plenty of firepower, they don't have the savvy to find a way out of a deep hole. And unfortunately, they put themselves in a deep hole set after set.

The final score isn't flattering; UCI won, 25-17, 25-18, 25-15. The outstanding performer for the Bruins was freshman J.T. Hatch. He led UCLA with 13 kills and nine digs. MPSF Player of the Year Zack La Cavera led the Anteaters with 13 kills and a .500 hitting percentage.

The loss to Irvine means that UCLA's season is over. The Bruins finish the year at 13-14. their first losing season under Coach Speraw, and the program's first losing season since 2009. However, the future looks bright for the Bruins, and next year should see UCLA contending for the MPSF title.

Operation Mend

Finally, since I prefer to close the Bruin Bites with positive news, I want to mention that UCLA Football's Spring Showcase raised $12,615 for the Operation Mend program. According to the UCLA Athletics website:

UCLA Operation Mend is an innovative program that provides returning military personnel from Iraq and Afghanistan, and service members wounded in training for battle, who suffer from severe facial and other medical injuries access to the nation's top plastic and reconstructive surgeons, as well as comprehensive medical and mental-health support for the wounded and their families.

Thank you to Coach Mora, his staff, and all of the student-athletes in our football program for their efforts in supporting Operation Mend!

Those are your Bruin Bites for the week. Check back tomorrow for a recap of our softball team's weekend in Corvallis.

Go BRUINS!