If UCLA wins, it would become the first school to win 100 NCAA team championships.
Just like last year's NCAA Tournament match between USC and UCLA, Courtney Mathewson scored the winning goal late in the fourth quarter. She scored with just over a minute left in the game to give the Bruins a 7-6 lead. Kelly Rulon stole the ball on USC's final possession to seal the victory. UCLA is now 32-12 all-time against the Women of Troy.
Reminiscent of their game at Sunset Canyon Recreation Center on April 7, this game was full of large swings in momentum, which were spurred on by the raucous, full capacity crowd. UCLA won the opening sprint, and Jillian Kraus quickly scored on a rocket of a shot from seven meters out. On the following possession, Emily Feher saved a shot from point blank range. With three minutes gone in the first quarter, Senior Kacy Kunkel drew an ejection that Gabrielle Domanic capitalized on to give the Bruins an early 2-0 lead.
The Women of Troy rebounded with four unanswered goals from Erika Figge, Veronika Bartunkova, Kami Craig, and Brittany Hayes. USC led 4-2 just three minutes from halftime before the Bruins answered again. Domanic drew a penalty shot on Bartunkova that Kelly Rulon converted on. The Women of Troy led 4-3 at the half.
Domanic won the sprint to begin the second half of the very physical match. After three minutes of play, Kacy Kunkel scored from point blank range after shaking off her defender. With 2:39 left in the third, Kunkel put in her second goal from nearly the exact same spot. Just 25 seconds later, Patty Cardenas hit the back of the net with a cross goal shot to tie the game 5-5.
USC won the opening sprint of the final quarter. Two minutes into the period, Courtney Mathewson found herself wide open five meters in front of the goal. She converted the shot to put the Bruins up 6-5. Patty Cardenas answered back 21 seconds later on a crafty designed play. The Women of Troy bundled in front of the Bruin goal, and Cardenas emerged after a few seconds away from the Bruin defenders, leaving her wide open to score. On the very next UCLA possession, Mathewson was left in front of the goal unguarded again after her defender left to put pressure on MPSF Player of the Year Kelly Rulon. Just as she did earlier in the quarter, Mathewson hit the back of the net to put the Bruins up 7-6 with 1:04 left in the game. Kelly Rulon stole the ball with eight seconds left to seal the victory.
Last year, UCLA defeated USC in the NCAA championship game by a score of 9-8. Then-sophomore Courtney Mathewson scored the game-winning goal with one second left in the game to clinch the Bruin's second national title in two years.
Head Coach Adam Krikorian: "What can I say? This was just another great USC/UCLA game! There's a been a great history of men's and women's water polo games and today was just another great game. I'm really proud of the girls. They showed a lot of fight and character and an amazing will to win. At halftime, with the game being called as it was, I told them that the team that fights the hardest is going to win, and thats what we did. This is a really special group.
Kacy was the player of the game tonight. She was phenomenal. She gave us a huge lift when we really needed it."
On the possibility of winning #100: "We just want to win #1 for this team. Our athletic department is on the brink of an amazing accomplishment, but we have to be concerned about just winning this national championship as a team."
Junior Courtney Mathewson "It's always exciting to play USC. It was a complete team effort tonight. I'm happy I was able to contribute to our effort. It's really comforting when you have confidence in your teammates and they have confidence in you."
Senior Kacy Kunkel "We gave it all we had tonight and it payed off. But I'll probably think about this win for just another few hours, and then I'll start thinking about tomorrow."
UCLA Goals: Courtney Mathewson 2, Kacy Kunkel 2, Gabrielle Domanic, Jillian Kraus, Kelly Rulon
UCLA Saves: Emily Feher 6
USC Goals: Patty Cardenas 3, Kami Craig, Erika Figge, Veronika Bartunkova
USC Saves:Whitney Morgan 8