Wahine water polo focused on Big West tournament

UH senior Chloe Barr scored seven goals in wins over UC Santa Barbara and Cal State Northridge this weekend. Star-Advertiser photo

A weekend sweep represented a milestone in a larger journey for the University of Hawaii water polo team.

The fifth-ranked Rainbow Wahine captured the program’s first outright Big West regular-season championship with Sunday’s 12-6 win at Cal State Northridge while also becoming the first UH team to go undefeated in conference play.

The Wahine (20-4, 5-0 BWC) had clinched the top seed in the Big West tournament with an 11-4 win at UC Santa Barbara on Saturday and the win at CSUN completed a dominant run through the conference schedule. UH outscored its Big West foes 59-29.

Following Sunday’s win, UH coach Maureen Cole was already focused on the task ahead before Sunday’s return flight to Manoa.

“One of our goals was to be a team of firsts and this was one of our goals we set seven months ago,” Cole said in a phone interview.

“I think it’s great for our program and what we’ve accomplished thus far. But it means nothing if we don’t play well in two weeks (at the Big West tournament). That’s just gotta be our focus, going 2-0.”

Senior Chloe Barr scored five goals and assisted on three more, freshman Carmen Baringo added two goals and Molly DiLalla made eight saves in Saturday’s win over UCSB. Freshman Elyse Lemay-Lavoie scored four goals, senior Claire Nixon added three and Barr had two against CSUN on Sunday while DiLalla finished with seven saves.

“It was (CSUN’s) senior day, it was super loud and a little hectic,” Cole said. “So it gave us a little bit of a feel of what it might feel like two weeks from now.”

UH went 6-1 and shared the regular-season title with UC Irvine in 2013, the program’s first year in the Big West. The Wahine won the BWC tournament in 2013 and ’15.

In the run-up to the Big West tournament, Cole said an emphasis will be on continuing to “put them in pressure situations and getting them a little bit used to that.”

As the top seed, UH will open the Big West tournament in the semifinals on April 28 in Irvine, Calif. against the winner of the first-round match between the fourth and fifth seeds. The order of the teams below UH will be finalized after Thursday’s match between Long Beach State and UC Irvine, both 2-2 in conference.

With three at-large berths available into the 10-team NCAA tournament, earning the Big West’s automatic berth figures to be UH’s lone path into the field. Stanford, USC, California and UCLA of the MPSF precede UH in the Collegiate Water Polo Association poll. The winner of the MPSF tournament earns the automatic berth and Cole expects the at-large spots to go to the other three.

UH’s four losses this season were to Cal (9-4), UCLA (9-8) and USC (twice, 12-7 and 9-5). The Wahine haven’t faced No. 1 Stanford this season.