After earning two wins over the weekend — the first against then-No. 1 UCLA and the second an absolute demolition of CSU Bakersfield — Stanford women’s water polo (20-1, 5-0 MPSF) will face conference foe Cal in the Big Splash on Thursday evening.
Stanford regained its No. 1 ranking on Wednesday after it defeated the Bruins 8-7 on Saturday afternoon. The team previously held that top spot at the beginning of the season but fell to the No. 2 ranking when it lost to UCLA the second time the two squads faced off.
While senior Kiley Neushul and sophomore Jamie Neushul stepped up in a big way for the Cardinal with 2 goals apiece against UCLA, six players notched 2 or more goals the following day against Bakersfield. Neushul, fellow senior Ashley Grossman and junior Maggie Steffens scored 4 each, the latter two notching 3 apiece in the first quarter alone, to lead Stanford to its 15-point win. The Cardinal’s defense shined once more, allowing only 5 goals, while junior goalie Gabby Stone also had 8 saves.
Yet Cal will certainly be a tougher opponent than the Runners, and despite its huge win over UCLA, Stanford recognizes that it must not dwell on this victory and instead must prepare for the match against a talented Cal squad.
“Our mentality is always to focus on what’s next,” said Jamie Neushul. “Cal is a great team that takes full focus in preparing for, so we try to move on as quickly as possible and get ready for this specific team.”
Cal, ranked No. 4 in the country, has only lost games against Stanford, UCLA and USC, the top three teams in the nation. When Cal faced USC earlier in April, the team only lost by one despite falling to the Trojans by six in the teams’ first matchup. Thus, the Bears could have something up their sleeves in the teams’ second showdown: After all, the first time these two teams played, Stanford trailed 4-2 at halftime but notched 5 goals in the third quarter alone, eventually going on to win 7-6.
“Cal is a very tough opponent with great shooters who will capitalize on small defensive mistakes,” said Jamie Neushul. “That game was close due to the competitive atmosphere, but I think also due to great offense, energy and attack mentality on Cal’s part.”
To succeed in the Big Splash and complete MPSF regular season play undefeated, the Cardinal must continue to play strong defense in both 6-on-6 and 5-on-6 situations. Stanford held UCLA to 1-for-5 on man-up opportunities, something it will have to replicate against Cal. In addition, not only did Stanford hold Bakersfield to 5 goals on Sunday, but the team is also allowing only 4.67 goals on average per game this season. In particular, the Cardinal will have their eye on Dora Antal, who leads the Golden Bears with 55 goals in 21 games.
“We really need to fine-tune individual skills on defense,” said Jamie Neushul. “Defense is the true name of the game, and we need to make sure everyone is sharp and on the same page but also making extra effort to fill their respective defensive roles.”
Offensively, Stanford has many weapons to lead the way: In fact, eight players — led by the elder Neushul, Grossman and Steffens — have scored 20 or more goals this season for the Cardinal. Against Cal earlier this season, Neushul and Steffens led the team with 2 goals apiece; yet to build up a more comfortable lead against the Golden Bears, more players will have to contribute, and quickly, to ensure that Stanford does not once more see a halftime deficit.
Stanford women’s water polo will face the Golden Bears at Berkeley on Thursday, April 16 at 5 p.m.
Contact Alexa Philippou at aphil723 ‘at’ stanford.edu.