Previewing the NCAA Water Polo Opening Round

NCAA Opening Round

  • May 7, 2019
  • Avery Aquatic Center; Palo Alto, California
  • Tournament Central
  • Winners advance to the NCAA First Round on Friday

The 10-team, nine-match NCAA Water Polo Championships begin on Tuesday with a pair of play-in matches, deemed the Opening Round. The winners advance to the quarterfinals to face the top two seeds in #1 USC and #2 Stanford on Friday.

Full NCAA Tournament Bracket:

The first four teams to play represent four of the seven conference champions and automatic qualifiers in the field.

Wagner vs. UC San Diego – 3 p.m. ET

#19 Wagner (30-9) is making its sixth straight NCAA appearance after claiming its sixth-straight Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) crown. The Seahawks, which defeated seven Top 25 teams during the regular season, will face another ranked foe in #14 UC San Diego for the opportunity to advance to the first round (round of 8).

The Tritons (21-13), which are on a five-match win streak, earned their seventh straight NCAA berth with their seventh Western Water Polo Association (WWPA) tournament title in a row. UCSD, which transitions to the Big West Conference next season, is looking for its eighth Top 25 win of the year.

Series History: This will mark the third straight year the Tritons and Seahawks have tangled in the NCAA opening round. Wagner won 6-5 in 2017 and 10-7 in 2018. UCSD leads the all-time series 6-4.

Players to Watch: Wagner has several offensive weapons with six players boasting more than 50 goals, led by MAAC Rookie of the Year Sofia Diaz Alvarez’s 108 and MAAC Offensive Player of the Year Erica Hardy, who has turned in 87 goals and 78 assists. Redshirt junior utility Kristy Donkin has racked up an NCAA Division I best 99 assists, while sophomore utility Daisy Nankervis paces the NCAA with 99 steals.

UC San Diego has three players with 50 goals: Grace Pevehouse (59), Taylor Onstott (54) and Ciara Franke (52).

In the goal, Wagner’s Katherine Campbell boasts an 8.53 goals against average among the team’s 8.97 goals allowed per game. UCSD utilizes two goalkeepers: Bennett Bugelli (542 minutes, 7.14 GAA) and Reilly Gallagher (494 minutes, 7.57 GAA). The Tritons allow 7.01 goals per game.

Pick: UC San Diego. Call it a gut feeling, but UC San Diego seems to have the edge despite the stats. Matches aren’t played on paper; experience matters. The Tritons played 20 matches against ranked teams to 13 for the Seahawks and have been on a roll, winning 11 of 12 contests to wrap the year. Wagner’s offensive stats (15.56 goals per game) may be slowed by the switch in keepers for the Tritons if it comes down to it.

Pacific vs. Cal Lutheran – 4:45 p.m. ET

Pacific (16-8) are back in the NCAA field for the third-straight year after claiming the Golden Coast Conference regular season and tournament crowns. The Tigers, which have won 10 straight games, have been among the CWPA Top 10 all year and boast two Top 10 win among 12 victories over ranked foes.

Cal Lutheran (21-8) is representing Division III after winning the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) Tournament title in an upset of Pomona-Pitzer. The Regals are making their first NCAA appearance since 2009 and just the second in program history.

Series History: Pacific leads the all-time series with Cal Lutheran 3-1. The teams last played in 2013.

Players to Watch: GCC Player of the Year Kyra Christmas paces the Tigers with 64 goals and 30 assists. Viktoria Szmodics (44 goals, 42 assists) and Mariana Duarte (42 goals) follow. Clara Vulpusi has played 748 of the team’s 824 minutes in goal, allowing 8.21 goals per game.

SCIAC Newcomer of the Year Lexi Rond leads the Regals with 57 goals and has drawn a program record 99 ejections. Nikki Roed (39), Jessica Diaz (33) and Mardell Ramirez (32) follow. Ramirez is the team’s assist leader with 33.

Bailey Meyer holds it down in goal for the Regals, allowing just 6.42 goals per game (180 goals in 28 games, 816 minutes).  She set the school’s all-time saves record in the semifinals of the SCIAC tournament and now stands at 912.

Pick: Pacific. As much as everyone loves an upset, it seems unlikely in this case, although all bets are off in the postseason. The Tigers are the more offensive side, scoring 12.41 goals per game to CLU’s 11.31. On paper, the Regals boast the edge in goal. Experience again seems to be the key factor in this game as Pacific has been on this stage before and has wrestled with several top teams in 2019, while Cal Lutheran played just three Top 25 foes.

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