For the third time in three years, head coach Adam Krikorian and the UCLA women's water polo team hoisted the NCAA Championship trophy. This time it was on a warm Mother's Day evening in Los Alamitos, California. The Bruins finished the year 28-2, and are now an incredible 90-6 over the last three years. This is Krikorian's fifth NCAA championship as coach of the women's water polo team, and eighth NCAA championship overall.
The Bruins jumped out early, but Stanford used two goals at the beginning of the fourth quarter to make the game extremely close in the final minutes. Emily Feher had an amazing game in the cage with nine crucial saves. UCLA prevented Stanford from gaining any momentum with stifling team defense.
Gabrielle Domanic won the opening sprint to set the tone for the Bruins. Stanford earned an exclusion on its first possession, but the shot was batted down by Domanic. Just over halfway through the first quarter, center forward Brittany Rowe drew an exclusion to create a 6-on-5 opportunity. Courtney Mathewson skipped a shot into the back of the net for the first goal of the game. Two minutes later, Jillian Kraus buried a shot into the bottom right corner of the goal from eight meters out to put the Bruins up 2-0. With thirty seconds left in the quarter, the Cardinal created another 6-on-5 opportunity that Domanic denied once again.
Mathewson won the second quarter sprint to keep the momentum going for the Bruins. Two minutes into the quarter, Kelly Rulon drew an exclusion on Alison Gregorka. Jillian Kraus put in her second goal on a point-blank shot courtesy of Gabrielle Domanic to extend the lead to 3-0. With 1:30 to go before halftime, Lauren Silver squeaked the ball between Emily Feher and the near post to cut the lead to two goals. Unnerved, Feher stuffed a Stanford fastbreak shot just seconds before halftime. The Bruins led at halftime by a score of 3-1.
Domanic won the opening sprint for a second time to open up the second half of play. Courtney Mathewson scored her second goal of the game on a skip shot with 6:16 left in the third. Stanford's third-ranked offense was held scoreless by UCLA's top-ranked defense for another full quarter, and the Bruins had a commanding 4-1 lead heading into the final quarter of the championship game.
Stanford won the sprint, and Lauren Silver scored her second goal on the Cardinal's first possession of the quarter. Silver then scored again on the next possession, cutting the lead to 4-3 on a long lob shot to the far post. Courtney Mathewson answered right back for the Bruins, just as she did after USC evened the score late in yesterday's semifinal match. Mathewson's third goal of the game put UCLA ahead 5-3. The Cardinal drew an ejection with just under six minutes left, and Kira Hillman capitalized on the opportunity. Neither team was able to score in the final five minutes of the hard-fought match. Emily Feher got a hold of the ball on Stanford's last possession to lock up the victory.
Kelly Rulon was named the NCAA Tournament MVP. On Friday, Rulon broke the all-time UCLA scoring record with three goals against Pomona-Pitzer. She scored off of a penalty shot in the semifinals against USC, which was her UCLA-record 237th career goal, and 47th career postseason goal. Because she redshirted in 2004 to participate in the Athens Olympics, Rulon has won a championship all four years she has played collegiate water polo. Kelly Rulon finishes her UCLA career with a staggering 113-10 record. She will go down as the most accomplished women's water polo player in UCLA history.
Joining Rulon on the eight-player NCAA All-Tournament first team are four other Bruins: Senior goalie Emily Feher, Junior driver Courtney Mathewson, Junior driver Jillian Kraus, and Senior center forward Kacy Kunkel. USC's Erika Figge, and Stanford's Christina Hewko and Katie Hansen were also first team selections. There were no Bruins selected to the second team.
Head Coach Adam Krikorian: "What a phenomenal game! It was great for us to get a good start and it was important for us to have the momentum early in order to win the game. We made some big saves and some big blocks that kept the momentum going for us. Stanford is such a great team, they're so explosive and aggressive and they're offensive attack is great. Give them a lot of credit for fighting their way back.
"Right now it's a little bit surreal."
Senior Emily Feher"Throughout the tournament, we've never mentioned anything about winning the 100th championship for our school. We didn't allow that to distract us, and I think that was why were so successful. For us, it was just another number. And now that we can think about it, it's pretty awesome."
Junior Courtney Mathewson "It's going to be great to celebrate our accomplishment today, especially winning the 100th for UCLA and winning three in a row, that's pretty amazing!"