The UCLA women's water polo team -- one of the most dominant collegiate teams in recent history -- will dive into the pool Friday afternoon with intentions of inching its way to a sixth straight NCAA championship. Gone is former coach Adam Krikorian, who was hired by the U.S. women's national team for the same position. One of his assistants -- 29-year-old Brandon Brooks -- took over this season, leading UCLA to a 20-7 record and an MPSF Tournament championship as the No. 5 seed less than two weeks ago. The No. 3-seeded Bruins face No. 6-seeded Loyola Marymount in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in San Diego on Friday afternoon.Maya Sugarman/Daily Bruin
First-year head coach Brandon Brooks looks to lead the UCLA women's water polo team to its sixth straight NCAA title this weekend.
What's it like to be the team every other team is gunning for?
Brandon Brooks: I don't know -- at UCLA we feel like we always get everyone's A-game. We focus on ourselves, on doing what we can do well, improving on our weaknesses and playing to our strengths.
Have you felt any pressure to extend the title streak and live up to the standards set by former coach Adam Krikorian?
Brooks: No, I don't feel like that. If I was able to put that pressure on myself, it'd be unfair to everyone involved. Our focus is on playing well as a team, getting better all the time and trying not measure everything by wins or losses.
You served as an assistant under Krikorian in recent years. How is this team different from the others?
Brooks: Well, I've learned a lot as a head coach. I've learned how important every detail is. As an assistant it's nice -- you get to hang out and focus more on having great relationships with the girls. As a head coach you've got to focus on all of the details. It's been a great growing experience for me. Every team, even if you have the same players, is different from year to year -- especially in college sports. A year of growth in college can mean huge changes. It's been fantastic, fun, nerve-racking, but overall a great experience.
On the topic of experience, the team lost to USC 14-5 before the start of the MPSF Tournament. What went through your mind after that?
Brooks: We didn't stick to our game plan. We let things fall apart and didn't play as a team. It showed. When the pressure was on us, we kind of fell apart at the seams. We used it to get better and grow as a team.
Would you call that match a wake-up call?
Brooks: Yeah, I would. After that game, a lot of people were forced to be honest with themselves and understand that no one can win a game on their own. We need to use everyone and everyone needs to be on the same page. It was a good wake-up call.
Winning the MPSF Tournament as the No. 5 seed came as a surprise to many. Were you surprised?
Brooks: No, I wasn't surprised. I thought we could play with any of the teams. Even though we had lost to USC and lost to Stanford, I still believed that this team had a good chance to play very solid water polo. I wasn't surprised that we could play with those teams and that were able to win, but I was overjoyed that we did it.
A month ago you defeated Loyola Marymount. How much does that help going into your first-round matchup with them on Friday?
Brooks: This is one of the best teams that LMU has ever had. They're used to winning -- winning is a culture there. I think that if we get ahead, then our win from before will help us. Going into the game I'm not taking anything for granted. There's three games left in our season and we have to focus on the next one.