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Water polo wins Stanford Invitational behind Yelizarova, Baldoni

Anna Yelizarova (#11)

Freshman driver Anna Yelizarova (above) scored 10 goals during the Stanford Invitational to help Stanford win the Invitate’s championship. (MIKE KHEIR/The Stanford Daily)

While the world was watching the Baltimore Ravens win their first Super Bowl in 12 years, the No. 1 Stanford women’s water polo team added yet another trophy to the case this weekend. The Cardinal (8-0) swept all four games to capture its fourth straight Stanford Invitational Championship.

The Cardinal faced its first serious challenge of the year in the title game against No. 3 UCLA on Sunday afternoon, but ultimately pulled out the 8-5 victory to hand the Bruins their first loss of the season.

The Bruins broke out to a 3-1 lead in the opening quarter, forcing the Cardinal to play from behind for the first time this season. Stanford scored two goals in the second period, but still trailed 4-3 at halftime.

After the break, goalkeeper Kate Baldoni and the Stanford defense locked down, holding UCLA to just one goal in the second half. The senior posted six saves in the contest as Stanford held UCLA to its season-low scoring output.

As the defense kept the Bruins at bay, the Cardinal offense finally opened up after halftime. Anna Yelizarova continued her strong freshman campaign by recording a hat trick in the championship game. Yelizarova and senior Melissa Seidemann lead the team with 22 goals apiece this season.

Junior Kaley Dodson added two goals for the Cardinal while Seidemann, freshman Maggie Steffens and junior Kaitlyn Lo each scored once.

Stanford reached the final by earning the No. 1seed in Bracket A of the tournament.

The Cardinal opened the weekend by beating The Olympic Club 9-5 in an exhibition game. The San Francisco-based squad featured players familiar to Cardinal fans — Stanford standouts Brenda Villa ‘03 and Monica Coughlan ‘12 played in the match.

On Saturday afternoon, the Cardinal dominated No. 8 San Jose State with a 15-4 score. Less than two minutes into the game, Seidemann scored the first of her five goals to give the Cardinal a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. The Spartans had no answer for the senior, who dominated the space in front of the cage by consistently sweeping up rebounds and putting them away for Stanford goals.

Yelizarova also scored five goals for Stanford, which led 10-2 at halftime. Sophomore Kiley Neushul, the 2012 National Player of the Year, broke out for her first hat trick of the season while Dodson and Steffens each added a goal.

In the face of a San Jose State squad that cheered wildly every time it got off a shot, Baldoni stood tall, making six saves in the game.

Stanford secured a spot in the final by beating No. 12 UC-Davis 11-2 in Sunday morning’s matchup. Seven different players scored for the Cardinal, led by Neushul with another three goals. Seidemann, Yelizarova, Lo, senior Alexis Lee, junior Lexie Ross and freshman Gurpreet Sohi all got on the scoresheet for the Cardinal.

In the first period, the Aggies kept it close by holding Stanford to just a single goal, but the Cardinal broke the game open with five goals in the second quarter. UC-Davis didn’t score at all until the fourth quarter, at which point the Cardinal had built a 10-0 lead.

Stanford head coach John Tanner was able to rotate players to keep them fresh for the afternoon battle against the Bruins, who reached the final by knocking off previously undefeated No. 4 Cal.

The Cardinal has now outscored its opponents 107-29 in eight official games this season. Thirteen different players have scored for Stanford, which is seeking its third consecutive national championship.

Stanford will next face UC-Davis again in an away matchup on Saturday. The Cardinal then has two weeks off before the UC-Irvine Invitational on Feb. 23-24. Conference play begins on March 2 against Cal State-Bakersfield.

Contact Jana Persky at jpersky@stanford.edu.