SAN DIEGO, Calif. - The seventh-ranked LMU women's water polo program claimed one of its biggest victories in program history, and they chose the best possible moment to do it.
The Lions knocked-off five-time defending national champion and top-ranked UCLA, 5-4, in the first round of the National Collegiate Women's Water Polo Championships at the Aztec Aquaplex Friday afternoon to advance to their first semifinal appearance since 2004, when the played USC for the national title.
"To try and describe that game in a couple of minutes isn't going to do it any justice," said Head Coach Kyle Witt, who is in his first season at the helm of the Lions. "I think anyone who was here today saw an evenly matched game between two great teams and we were fortunate to come out on top. It was definitely a team effort today and I couldn't be more proud of this program. I definitely want to thank (former head coach) John Loughran from this opportunity he game me and this one's for him."
LMU will face yet another No. 1 in USC - the Trojans and Bruins were tied atop the latest national poll - in the final semifinal on Saturday at 5:45 p.m.
For the Lions, it is the first win in program history over the Bruins in 15 tries and the first-ever win over a top-ranked opponent. In the process, they become the lowest seed (No. 6) to advance to the semifinals of the NCAA tournament, which expanded to an eight-team tournament in 2005.
They did it with defense, led by freshman goalie Kristine Cato, who made 11 saves, including three on the 6-on-5 attack.
"I would say that we came in with a pretty good plan and the girls followed it very well, but it was all them," said Witt. "Our plan was to be patient and wait for the best shot. When you have a goalie who was playing as well as she was today, you want to make sure you limit the amount of shots they are going to take on her, but definitely it gives the defense and chance to succeed in front of her."
UCLA scored right out of the gate to take a 1-0 lead just 23 seconds into the game on a goal by Grace Reynolds. On the Bruins next possession, they forced an LMU ejection and went on the 6-on-5 attack. The Lions defense forced UCLA into a turnover, setting a trend for the rest of the game. UCLA went just 1-for-8 on the 6-on-5 while LMU was just 0-for-5.
The teams would trade goals. Senior Anne Scott tied the game at 1-1 with 4:08 to play. UCLA's Kelly Easterday followed to give the Bruins a 2-1 lead with 2:17 to play. Scott answered on the next LMU possession, tying the score at 2-2 with 1:51 left in the first quarter.
With time running out in the first frame, UCLA would take the lead with just 11 seconds remaining on a KK Clark goal.
From that point, the LMU defense took over and held the Bruins without a goal for 22 minutes and 49 seconds. In that span, the Lions would score three unanswered goals.
The first came on a 5-meter penalty shot by Daisy Carrillo with 3:32 to play in the first half to tie the score at 3-3. They would then take the lead for good when junior Mary Anne Campos scored with 41 seconds remaining, making the score 4-3 at the break. Cato would make three saves in the quarter, including a monster on a 6-on-5 attempt.
As UCLA's scoring drought continued, freshman Erin Manke gave LMU a two-goal lead when she scored with 2:09 to play in the third quarter. It proved to be the game winner thanks to Cato, who made four saves in the quarter, including another 6-on-5 save.
"We definitely did what we needed to do and they helped me out on defense and limited the shots, and that made my job a lot easier," said Cato, who transferred from USC in the fall. "I definitely cannot play the game without my defense."
Cato made two more big saves to start the fourth, including another man-advantage save. UCLA would finally get back on the board when Clark scored a 6-on-5 goals with 1:22 to play.
The Lions would milk the clock on their next possession, giving UCLA one last shot. Clark's shot went high over the cage with less than 30 seconds to play and the Lions were able to secure the ball and the win.