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Crowell helps Tritons break through

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    Hanalei Crowell has amassed 73 steals this season to go with her impressive number of goals and assists.

Hanalei Crowell calls the final water polo tournament of her career bittersweet.

"I’m kind of bummed, but I’m definitely excited too," she said. "I’m stoked that we got this far, but it’s also been a long trip."

Judging by the body of work she’s put into the sport, it makes sense she’s ready to move on.

One of the most successful players in the history of the UC San Diego water polo program, Crowell will end her career with her biggest achievement yet.

The 5-foot-6 senior will lead the Tritons into their first NCAA championship appearance when No. 7 seed UC San Diego plays second-seed California in the first round of the tournament Friday in Ann Arbor, Mich.

UCSD qualified for the tournament by upsetting Loyola Marymount, beating the Lions for the first time since 2008 in the championship game of the Western Water Polo Association Championship tournament on May 1.

LMU, which beat UCSD  13-7 during the regular season, was the two-time defending league champions and went undefeated in the regular season.

Crowell, who was named the tournament’s most valuable player, scored three goals in the final, including the game-winner with less than 2 minutes remaining to notch UCSD’s first win against a ranked team all season.

"I feel like we came out wanting to win and we did," Crowell said. "They actually lost their starting goalie a month before the WWPA and we got one of our leading scorers right now eligible for the spring quarter, so it was really they lost a player and we gained a player."

UCSD also had Crowell, a first-team All-WWPA selection who has 54 goals and 54 assists this year. Crowell’s 54 assists are the third most in a single season in school history and her 73 steals are fourth most. Seven assists in the NCAA tournament would break the school’s single-season record.

The Tritons are ranked 14th in the latest CWPA Top 20 poll, their highest ranking since 2006.

At that time, Crowell was a junior at Kamehameha, leading her team to a state championship. Her older sister, Kamaile, was a junior at UCLA, but as was the case in high school, Hanalei decided to go elsewhere.

"I wanted to go play water polo, but not at such a high level as she did, and San Diego is the perfect place for me," said Hanalei, whose older sister went to Punahou. "When I came on my recruiting trip, the team was really cool and fun to hang out with and that’s really what made me come here."

The Tritons were always close, but couldn’t break through in the conference tournament until now.

The team left this morning for Michigan, where the Tritons will have to play in an indoor setting, something West Coast teams aren’t used to.

"I don’t think there’s much of a difference," Crowell said. "It’s not something I notice when I’m playing."

Crowell said her parents will make the trip to watch her finish her collegiate career.

When she’s done, the economics major, who comes home every winter and summer break, said she plans on staying in San Diego.

"I like it up here, so hopefully I can find a job here," she said.

Stanford is the No. 1 seed and the Golden Bears are the second seed, despite winning the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament. The field of eight is rounded out by UCLA, USC, UC Irvine, Indiana, UCSD and Iona.

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