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W. Water Polo: Stanford starting season strong

After a convincing win at the Stanford Invitational, the No. 1 Stanford women’s water polo team looks to continue its strong start at its next tournament at the UC-Irvine Invitational Feb. 27-28. In between, the Card will sandwich last week’s home match against Sonoma State (a 17-6 win) and an away match against San Jose State on Saturday.

After not winning the Stanford Invitational for six years, the victory provided the team a good measure to gauge its readiness. With preseason rankings often shifting very early on in the schedule, Stanford did well to come out on top of a field that had eight teams ranked in the top 10 of Division I.

Although Stanford has been very successful in its two tournaments so far this season, the NorCal Invitational and Stanford Invitational, most of its remaining matches are duals against a single opponent.

“The ‘tournament season’ and ‘dual-match season’ are very different,” said sophomore driver Pallavi Menon. “Either way, every game matters to us. We prepare for every opponent. Our team is a huge target with this number one ranking.”

To maintain that ranking, the team must keep composed through both its tournament matches and single-day competitions. Despite its recent success, senior driver Kelly Eaton was quick to point out that the Card has yet to face some difficult opponents  — among them, UCLA, Arizona State and Hawaii, all of whom participated in the Invitational but did not draw the home team.

This weekend, Stanford will take on San Jose State, one of the Cardinal’s opponents in the Stanford Invitational. The Cardinal defeated the Spartans 15-6 earlier this month.

The players are looking forward to this rematch with a top-10 team — and the tournament at Irvine — viewing the games as early opportunities to refine their skills before championship season.

“Each competition is a chance for us to improve,” said senior defender and Olympian Jessica Steffens.

For junior goalkeeper Amber Oland, the early season matches afford an opportunity “to get to see the tendencies of the teams and the new players that each team has.”

However, the team is confident in its ability to get the job done. Eaton and Steffens made clear that the 2010 Stanford team is overflowing with speed and quickness at almost every position.

In the upcoming matches and tournaments, the Card will continue to look to drivers Menon and freshman Victoria Kennedy, who combined to sweep the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation’s weekly honors Monday, as Menon took home the conference’s Player of the Week honor and Kennedy was named Newcomer of the Week. Another key factor will be sophomore two-meter offense Melissa Seidemann, who led the team in goals in the 2009 campaign with 59.

Saturday’s match at San Jose State will be the Cardinal’s first MPSF match of the season. The game tips off at noon in San Jose.