The No. 2 Stanford women’s water polo team (4-0) got its season off to a perfect start this weekend, retaining the Stanford Invite title for a fifth straight year by beating No. 3 UCLA 8-4 in the final. Stanford had fought through a very competitive Bracket A in the preliminary round of the tournament, beating out No. 17 UC-Davis 16-3, No. 6 Hawaii 16-5 and No. 5 UC-Irvine 13-9.
Junior driver Kiley Neushul and sophomore driver Anna Yelizarova led the team with 11 goals each over the course of the tournament. Neushul included a hat trick against Hawaii and five goals against UC-Davis, while Yelizarova had three separate hat tricks in tournament play. They were ably backed up by the stellar play of sophomore driver Maggie Steffens, who notched seven goals for the tournament, and sophomore goalie Gabby Stone, who had 10 saves in the final and 22 over the two days of tournament play.
The Cardinal had to endure some nerve-wracking moments over the course of the tournament after UC-Irvine took an early 3-1 lead in the final preliminary game through goals from senior drivers Annika Bergesen and Hillary Estrada and another goal from junior driver Danielle Warde. However, the Cardinal came back strong behind the play of Neushul and Yelizarova, both of whom scored two goals in order to give the Cardinal an 8-6 halftime lead that it would not relinquish. The match continued its back-and-forth pace over the final two periods, but the game was closed out by senior two-meter Annika Dries, who put away two crucial goals to lead the team to its 13-9 victory and a spot in the final.
A similar pattern of play emerged in the final, as Stanford put away what had been a very tight game in the second half of the contest. Leading 3-2 at halftime thanks to goals from Steffens, Yelizarova and senior driver Kelsey Suggs, Stanford came out energized in the second half and, in fact, held the Bruins scoreless until the five-minute mark in the fourth quarter.
In the intervening time, the game was broken open by four goals from Neushul, Dries, Steffens and Yelizarova, who had emerged at this point as the Cardinal’s key contributors in its march towards the title. In the end, the margin of victory was fairly comfortable and the Cardinal will likely be very pleased with its level of performance in what was a very competitive tournament.
Hoping to continue its stellar start to the season, the Cardinal will next travel to Santa Clara on Feb. 12 for another non-conference match-up.
Contact Dylan Fugel at dfugel ‘at’ stanford.edu.