UCLA Drowns Cal's Title Hopes

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INDIANAPOLIS - After all the trouble it took to get the Cal flag out to the Collegiate Water Polo Championships in Indianapolis, Bears mic-man Chad Smith did not get a chance to wave it proud and high in the Natatorium at the conclusion of the championship game.

In fact, the flag didn't even get to make an appearance at the NCAA finale.

Instead, the Bears women's water polo team found itself playing in the third-place game against Stanford yesterday, after a defeat to eventual champion UCLA (which blew out USC, 11-4, in the championship game) in Saturday's semifinal matchup.

For the second year in a row, No. 3 Cal (28-7, 8-1 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) wrapped up the season in fourth place after suffering its first consecutive losses of the year - falling to the Cardinal, 8-5, and the Bruins, 5-3.

For a team that had been ranked No. 1 up until last month, these losses were tough to swallow.

"It was sort of anticlimactic, but it was that way for both (Stanford and Cal)," Bears coach Peter Asch said. "When you're pointing your whole year for the National Championships and you lose the semifinal game, it's very, very difficult to get back into the game."

But at least the Cardinal, who came in the top-seeded team in the tournament, finished its season on a winning note. After losing the first three games of the season to Cal, Stanford ended up taking the last three - the ones that actually counted.

While the Bears lost the game by three goals, the final score wasn't indicative of how close the match actually was. Cal had a chance to tie the game with less than two minutes to go, and after pulling off a two-goal comeback against the Card at the NCAA Regionals two weeks ago, it seemed like another miracle was in store for the Bears.

Senior driver Colette Glinkowkski - who was named to the tournament's second team - pulled Cal within a goal of Stanford, after scoring on a penalty shot with just three minutes remaining. But before the Bears could tie the score at six, the Cardinal's Julie Gardner - who won the regional title for Stanford with her overtime goal - scored just a minute later to seal Cal's fate.

But even this defeat at the hands of the arch rival Cardinal wasn't half as disappointing as the semifinal loss to No. 2 UCLA.

"I'm extremely proud of the girls," Asch said after the game." We played extremely well, enough to win and enough to be in the championship game. The extra man situation was totally disproportionate from the reality of the game."

The Bears came out strong, dominating against a team that had held them winless all season long. Cal jumped out to an early 2-0 lead on goals by driver Brenna Fleener and two-meter player Julia Cesnik, and had multiple other scoring chances.

But the officials soon began to leave their thumbprints on the match with some questionable call against the Bears. The Bruins scored only one even-strength goal - which came right after Cal killed off a 6-on-4.

But Bears goalie Fana Fuqua, who along with teammate Beth Irwin was named to the tournament's first team, kept Cal in the game. Until UCLA was given a penalty shot with just three minutes to go.

"I think that call should have been a regular foul," Glinkowski said. "It wasn't just one or two calls that were bad refereeing calls, but pretty much like the entire game was horrible. I've never, ever been part of a game where the refereeing honestly controlled the game."

Calls such as this may explain why players were still in tears thirty minutes after the semifinal matchup had ended and could not be consoled by the numerous parents who had come out to support their daughters.

After starting off the tournament at the top of their game - breezing by the University of Indiana, 12-4, and handing San Diego State a 7-2 loss - it seemed like this might finally be the year for the Bears to capture the national crown.

But, once again, Cal will have to wait another year, and its four seniors will be leaving the team without the title that has eluded them throughout their collegiate careers.

Even with the disappointment of the losses, Glinkowski looked at the entire season and her years with the Bears in a positive light.

"In two weeks, no one's gonna remember who got first, second, or third," the senior said. "But in two weeks I'll remember how many friends I have gained. I'll remember that forever - that, and how much fun I've had on the team."


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