As far as college sports go, women’s water polo isn’t exactly filled with the glitz and glamour of football or basketball.
Even the national championship trophy -- actually a plaque -- is lower key than the shiny crystal passed out for more high-profile sports.
Still, the title counts as much, and that means that UCLA has reached a magical milestone: its 100th NCAA title.
The Bruins’ women’s water polo team defeated Stanford, 5-4, in the national final Sunday at the Joint Forces Training Center in Los Alamitos, giving the team its third consecutive championship and making UCLA the first school to reach 100 NCAA team titles.
“It is a great tribute to all of the UCLA student-athletes and coaches past and present,” UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero said. “I think it’s very fitting of this program because we have arguably one of the finest traditions in all of college athletics.”
Like many of the championships won by UCLA greats of the past, such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Lisa Fernandez, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Karch Kiraly, No. 100 didn’t come easy.
Stanford trailed, 4-1, after three quarters, but got two quick long-range goals from Lauren Silver to pull within a goal with 6 minutes 42 seconds to play.
UCLA answered back, however, when Courtney Mathewson hit a 25-foot skip shot for a 5-3 lead with 6:24 to play. Stanford got back to within one less than a minute later, but UCLA goalie Emily Feher had three of her nine saves in the final five minutes to prevent the Cardinal from getting the equalizer.
“When you get out to a lead against a great team like Stanford ... you know they’re going to fight their way back and they did,” UCLA Coach Adam Krikorian said. “From that point it was about being tough. Digging deep. Just finding a way. We showed today that we’re the toughest team in the nation.”
Bruins teams have done that since the 1950 men’s tennis team won the school’s first NCAA title. Last season’s women’s water polo team was the last UCLA team to win an NCAA title, and the Bruins have been stuck on 99 since.
UCLA teams in women’s volleyball, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s basketball and gymnastics all reached the NCAA semifinals of their sports during the past year, but none was able to bring home championship No. 100.
“I don’t think we ever mentioned the word ‘100' within our group,” Feher said. “I think that is part of the reason why we were successful because we didn’t let that distract us.”
Added Mathewson, who scored a game-high three goals: “It’s pretty special and it’s great to be No. 100,” she said. “But there’s going to be 100 more.”
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NCAA Division I championship leaders (men’s and women’s):
*--* 1. UCLA 100 6. Louisiana State 40 2. Stanford 93 7. Texas 39 3. USC 84 8t. Michigan 32 4. Okla. State 48 8t. North Carolina 32 5. Arkansas 43 8t. Penn State 32