The Stanford women’s water polo team looks to continue its strong season this Saturday at the UC-Irvine Invitational in Irvine, Calif. Stanford (9-0, 1-0 MPSF) looks to extend its season-opening winning streak past the nine it has had out of the gate.
The Cardinal opens the competition as the top seed, as it continues to sit atop the NCAA Division I rankings. It will open match play in Group A on Saturday morning against UC-San Diego.
The Cardinal’s last outing was a 10-4 victory over No. 10 San Jose State this past weekend, which gave the Card its first Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) win of the season. In that game, sophomore two-meter Melissa Seidemann was Stanford’s top scorer, scoring three goals in the win. Senior drivers Kelly Eaton and Kelsey Holshouser and sophomore driver Pallavi Menon each scored twice, while senior two-meter Jessica Steffens added one final goal in support. In goal, freshman Kate Baldoni got the start and saw over a half of the action, before junior Amber Oland took over and stopped five shots in the final 16 minutes. However, Baldoni did not leave without making a lasting impression, as she was named MPSF Mikasa Newcomer of the Week.
Stanford has been making a habit of grabbing this honor — this now makes the third week in a row that a Stanford player has garnered the honor. Baldoni’s award, bestowed on Monday, follows on the heels of Annika Dries and Victoria Kennedy, who won the honor in the previous two weeks. Dries and Kennedy will have an opportunity to play at their alma mater this weekend, as the UC-San Diego game will take place at Corona Del Mar High School, where both Dries, a 2-meter offense, and Kennedy, a driver, graduated last spring.
The UC-Irvine Invitational is in its fourth year, with Stanford winning the 2009 title. The 2010 tournament features the current top 11 programs in the nation and 14 of the top 15. Competitors include No. 2 USC, No. 3 Cal, No. 4 UCLA and No. 11 host UCI, among others. With so many highly ranked teams competing in Irvine over the weekend, the tournament presents a ripe opportunity for the Cardinal.
“[It’s an opportunity] to solidify our No. 1 ranking,” Steffens said. “Teams will be coming after us [but] that is part of the fun of competition.”
Although the Cardinal remains ranked No. 1 in Division I, Eaton pointed out that there are still plenty of skilled opponents that the Cardinal has yet to face.
“It will be fun to get a chance to play some of the others that we haven’t gotten to compete against yet,” she said. “We are determined to win all our games and maintain our number-one ranking. We will achieve this if we play our best and execute our game plans. We need to build and improve every week in order to earn the national championship.”
The Cardinal can take solace in a strong finish to its last outing though, as the bulk of its offensive productivity against San Jose State came in the third quarter, opening up a 9-2 lead, before cruising to a 10-4 final.
If the Cardinal can overcome UC-San Diego, who enters the tournament on a three-game slide, it will face the winner of the match between Arizona State and Cal State Northridge. Arizona State (4-3), ranked eighth in the country, will be playing for the first time since the Stanford Invitational on Valentine’s Day Weekend. The Sun Devils are led by Mariam Salloum and Lynlee Smith, who have each scored 11 goals, and goalkeeper Dana Harvey, who leads the MPSF with 10.60 saves per game. Northridge (9-2) enters the weekend ranked No. 9 in the national poll and has won four of its last five games.
The Cardinal’s first game begins Saturday at 9 a.m. at Corona Del Mar, Calif.