Stanford only needs three more NCAA championships to get to 100 and move closer to UCLA’s total of 104. Can we make up some ground this winter? It’s postseason time in a lot of sports, where the athletes’ best performances are ready to shine through.
The women’s team seems to be on a collision course with Connecticut for the NCAA Championship. However, I don’t want to think that way because there are talented teams out there, and anything can happen. The No. 2 Card will likely get a No. 1 seed and be on the opposite side of the bracket from No. 1 UConn. But that doesn’t mean those other 62 teams will just let them reach the finals. Let’s just say that women’s basketball has a great chance to win it all this year if the team continues to play well.
On the men’s side, it’s all about seeding for the Pac-10 Tournament at this point. The only way Stanford can even get into the NCAA Tournament is to win the Pac-10 Tournament–which is actually not impossible, especially if the team continues to play well. To win the title? Stranger things have happened before…I think.
The men’s gymnastics team looks like Stanford’s best bet to bring home a second trophy to the Farm, which would be the team’s second straight national championship. Stanford has shown that it can compete above every other collegiate team in the nation this year. A home meet against Michigan tomorrow will be a big test, as the Wolverines are currently the No. 1 team in the nation. The test after that will be going to NCAAs at the Naval Academy in Maryland. From the looks of it, the men should be ready and prepared to capture another NCAA title.
On the women’s side, it’s all about who does what when it counts. The women have had scattered results this year, losing to Oregon State, but then almost beating No. 1 Georgia, losing by just one-tenth of a point. This team has shown it can compete, but the women must put it all together when it counts at Regionals and at the Super Six. I would not count this team out from sneaking in there and pulling out the NCAA title, it just has to recreate some of its great performances from this year on the final day.
I would like to say that the Stanford women are the No. 1 team in the country, but even some of the ladies will tell you that those rankings mean nothing when it comes down to the NCAAs. The women are currently competing at the Pac-10 Championships and their finish there will be a good barometer of where they stand nationally. They finished their dual season undefeated, but the NCAAs are a whole different ball game. They do have experience on their side, as they have senior Olympians Elaine Breeden and Julia Smit, as well as junior World Championship participant Kate Dwelley. Also huge for them is the performance of their diving squad, led by senior Carmen Stellar. Like a lot of sports on the Farm, they have the talent and ability to win the NCAA title–they just need to bring their best over the three days of the NCAA Championships to do it.
On the men’s side, the loss of standout Austin Staab is a blow to the team. However, the team is still among the best in the nation. The men need their relay teams to come up big at NCAAs, because they are talented at the individual level and should score a lot of points there. Like the women, the dual record does not mean much going into Nationals, as it’s all about how your best stack up against their best–not necessarily how deep your team is. The Stanford men can win the trophy. But they will have some stiff competition, so it won’t be easy. If they do win, it will be hard-fought, hard-earned and well deserved.
Indoor Track and Field
The first season for track and field is the indoor season, and a solid group of athletes has already qualified for the NCAA Championships. While the men’s and women’s teams may not have the firepower that other teams have for the team title, the Cardinal is strong individually. The men’s distance medley relay team has the second-best time in the nation this year. Two men are under 3:59 for the mile, and pole vaulter Katerina Stefanidi is in the top 10 in the nation after her 14-foot jump earlier this year. So while it might not be a year for a team title, individually the athletes should have a great opportunity to show their stuff on the big stage.
The wrestling team will compete in the Pac-10 Championships this weekend in Davis, Calif. From there, NCAA berths will be on the line, as the winners in each weight class will advance to the NCAA Championships. Stanford does not look like it is in a position to win a team championship, as the schools from the Midwest are just too strong. However, they can qualify individuals to the NCAAs. Juniors Zack Giesen and Justin Paulsen, sophomore Nick Amuchastegui and freshman Ryan Mango will look to lead Stanford’s NCAA contingent this season.
If you haven’t read the San Jose Mercury News story that made the front page on Tuesday, you must. Then you will ask yourself why you are not rooting for the men’s volleyball team right now. The “worst-to-first” mantra has the team ranked No. 2 in the nation and vying for a berth in the NCAA tournament. Since only four teams make it into the NCAAs, Stanford has to either win the MPSF Tournament or have a good enough record to receive an at-large berth. The NCAA Championships are at Stanford this year, so how sweet would it be if the Cardinal was battling for the title on its home turf? The team needs to keep up the high level of play all the way through April if it wants a chance at that four-team playoff. From there, it is anyone’s title to win.
Danny Belch is still trying to think of something stranger than Stanford winning this year’s NCAA Tournament in men’s basketball. Give him ideas at dbelch1 “at” stanford.edu.