LA JOLLA, Calif. – Leah Gonzales scored a pair of goals and dished out an assist as the 14th-ranked UC San Diego women’s water polo team defeated No. 19 San Diego State, 8-5, in the 13th annual Harper Cup Friday night at Canyonview Aquatic Center in front of a crowd of 761. The win marks the first ever Harper Cup victory for the Tritons in the 13-year history.
Gonzales was named the Harper Cup’s Most Valuable Player for her production on both ends of the pool. She is the second Triton to ever be named the MVP, as Sarah Lizotte earned the honor in 2012.
“This is one of the biggest accomplishments we’ve had so far,” said head coach Brad Kreutzkamp about the victory.
The win also snapped UCSD’s 21-game losing streak against the Aztecs. The last victory came on Feb. 10, 2002. The Tritons have now won seven-straight games and stands at 24-10 overall. The Aztecs, who entered winners in nine of its last ten games, falls to 22-11 following the loss.
The Tritons were led by Gonzales’ two scores, as well as two goals apiece from Alexis Wieseler, Julia Kirkland and Jolene Guiliana. Courtney Miller was strong in the cage and contained the Aztec offense all night to finish with 13 saves.
“Tonight’s quick start was really big,” said Kreutzkamp. “Our game plan was to take away the center and make them shoot from the outside. We feel that with our strength in the cage, that if we had them shoot from the outside, Courtney (Miller) would come up with some blocks. And she did just that.”
UCSD led from start-to-finish after jumping out to a quick 2-0 lead after the first period. UCSD scored the first goal of the afternoon after forcing a turnover and giving possession to an open Kirkland. She quickly rifled a shot into the back of the cage to put UCSD on the scoreboard. Wieseler scored the final goal of the quarter at the 1:33 mark.
The Tritons continued to play solid defense into the second period and produced their best quarter offensively of the night by pouring in four goals. The quarter was highlighted by a UCSD goal :22 seconds into the period, following a great play by Guiliana offensively. She produced a steal on the sprint that set-up an offensive set, following a timeout, that produced an open shot from Gonzales to make the score 3-0. The Aztecs finally found the back of the net at the 2:41 mark after being shutout for the first 14 minutes of the game. The Tritons led 6-2 at the intermission.
After each team scored once in the third, SDSU came out in the fourth determined to make a comeback. Aztec goalie Rachel Mitchell, who finished with a game-high 16 saves, blocked two straight breakaway opportunities for UCSD to swing momentum in SDSU’s favor. The Aztecs carried that momentum to score twice, both by Caroline Isreals, on lob shots to cut the deficit to 7-5 with 4:11 to play.
The Tritons were determined to close out their first ever Harper Cup win, however, and received an insurance score from Wieseler to extend its lead back to three. UCSD finished out the win with a solid final three minutes of defense before Miller sealed the 8-5 victory with a steal with :50 seconds to play.
As a team, the Tritons finished with nine steals to limit the Aztec offense to its lowest scoring effort since March 16. Kirkland finished with a game-high four thefts for UCSD.
Wieseler and Lizotte produced two assists each on the night, while Bartow, Kirkland and Gonzales also finished with an assist apiece.
The Harper Cup is named after men's water polo coach Denny Harper, who played at San Diego State as an undergraduate and established the SDSU women's water polo club team. He went on to coach UCSD’s women’s team to five collegiate national championships from 1985-1999.
UCSD hosts the WWPA Championship next week at Canyonview Aquatic Center on Apr. 25-27. After completing a perfect 4-0 record in conference play, the Tritons earned the No. 1 seed and will have a first-round bye. UCSD will play its first game at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Apr. 26 at Canyonview.
UCSD 2 4 1 1 - 8
SDSU 0 2 1 2 - 5
UCSD: Leah Gonzales 2, Alexis Wieseler 2, Julia Kirkland 2, Jolene Guiliana 2
SDSU: Caroline Isreals 2, Nikole Ferrari 1, Ioli Benekou 1, Alyssa Diacono 1
UCSD: Courtney Miller 13
SDSU: Rachel Mitchell 16