LA JOLLA, Calif. - The Harper Cup has become quite comfortable in La Jolla.
The No. 12 University of California San Diego women's water polo team defeated crosstown foe and No. 21-ranked San Diego State, 6-5, in a thrilling 17th annual Harper Cup contest on Friday night.
UC San Diego (21-11, 4-0 WWPA) has now won three straight Harper Cups and four of the last five. Overall, the Tritons have won five of their last six games heading into next weekend's Western Water Polo Association (WWPA) Championship.
“It was really special," said UC San Diego senior Kayla Fedler, who finished with one goal and one assist. “We really wanted to win this game. To win with this group is an unbelievable experience.”
Junior Shelby Stender scored the game-winning goal off an assist from Fedler with 1:38 left to play, capping a furious 5-2 Triton run to close the game.
Freshman Ciara Franke (San Diego/La Jolla HS) was named Harper Cup MVP, finishing with a team-high two goals to go along with four steals. Fellow freshman Taylor Onstott added a goal with three assists. Sophomore goalkeeper Reilly Gallagher started in the net and tallied seven saves, while freshman goalkeeper Bennett Bugelli played the entire second half and racked up four saves to earn the victory.
Despite an exciting atmosphere that began with Gallagher singing the national anthem, the contest started off as a defensive battle. The two teams combined for just three goals in the first half, as UC San Diego led 1-0 after the first quarter and San Diego State (13-15) took a 2-1 halftime advantage.
Action picked up late in the third quarter, however, as SDSU's Karli Canale scored a goal off an assist from Courtney Jarvis to extend the Aztecs' lead to 3-1 with 2:12 left in the period.
But UC San Diego came storming back, starting with Fedler's goal off a pass from Onstott to make it 3-2 with 1:33 to go in the third. Franke followed with a power-play goal off another Onstott assist to knot the score heading into the fourth period.
The Tritons pulled ahead early in the fourth quarter, as Franke scored again off Onstott's third assist of the night. The two teams exchanged goals throughout the fourth until Stender's heroics put UC San Diego on top for good.
Fedler and Colleen Ratcliff were recognized prior to the start on Senior Night.
With the regular season all wrapped up, the Tritons now look forward to the WWPA Championship beginning on Friday, April 27, as the hosts at Canyonview Aquatic Center.
No. 12 UC San Diego 6, No. 21 San Diego State 5
Score by Quarters
SDSU: 0 2 1 2 - 5
UCSD: 1 0 2 3 - 6
UCSD 21-11, 4-0 WWPA