The No. 2 Stanford women’s water polo team will look to repeat as national champion when it travels to San Diego this weekend for the National Collegiate Championship.
The Cardinal (23-2) is the top seed in the eight-team field despite losing in the title game of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) tournament, 8-7 to UCLA. The Bruins (21-3) are the No. 2 seed this weekend, meaning the top two teams in the country could meet in Sunday’s championship game. Stanford and UCLA have split their four meetings this year, while the pair has gone a combined 40-1 against everyone else.
First up for Stanford in the quarterfinals is No. 8-seed Pomona-Pitzer. The Sagehens qualified for the National Collegiate Championship by winning the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) tournament with a triple-overtime win in the championship game over Redlands. Pomona-Pitzer has gone 21-16, but that includes a 15-0 record against Division-III teams. The defending champion Cardinal should provide a bigger challenge. In the two teams’ only ever meeting, the 2010 national quarterfinal, Stanford pounded the Sagehens 23-3.
If the Cardinal can repeat that feat in Friday’s quarterfinal, it will take on the winner of Loyola Marymount and UC-Irvine. Stanford has faced each team once in 2012, winning 17-2 and 17-5, respectively. On the other half of the bracket, UCLA could meet No. 3-seed USC in a rivalry semifinal. The Bruins have beaten their cross-town foes in all three meetings this year, but each game has been decided by only one goal.
Stanford won the national title last year, its second in 10 years, by knocking off archrival Cal in the final. The Golden Bears did not qualify for the tournament this year after falling to USC in the third-place game at the MPSF tournament.
Despite being the top seed once again, this year’s Cardinal team is significantly different from last year’s squad. The 2011 team had four players named to the All-Tournament Team, and none of the four is playing on this year’s team. Instead, Stanford has relied on MPSF newcomer of the year Kiley Neushul, who leads the team with 55 goals, freshman Ashley Grossman and returners Kaley Dodson and Alyssa Lo. Overall, Stanford leads the MPSF in both goals per game and goals allowed per game.
The Cardinal’s title defense starts Friday night at 6:30 p.m. on the campus of San Diego State. The championship match will be Sunday night at 8:15 p.m.
– Jacob Jaffe