By Jana Persky
The No. 2 Stanford women’s water polo team will be looking to take back the top ranking in both its conference and the nation when it matches up with No. 1 USC this Saturday in Los Angeles.
The Trojans (20-0, 4-0 MPSF) handed the Cardinal (23-1, 4-0 MPSF) its only defeat of the season when the teams met on Feb. 24 in the finals of the UC-Irvine Invitational. In a back-and-forth affair, USC ultimately pulled out a 13-10 win.
“They were just better prepared than we were,” said Stanford head coach John Tanner after the first matchup. “They did a lot of things that we didn’t respond well to.”
Since that loss, the Cardinal has won 11 straight games by a margin of at least seven goals. Last weekend, Stanford shut down No. 4 UCLA to win 8-1 on the Card’s Senior Day.
With that win, the Cardinal secured a place in the top two slots of the bracket in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) tournament, which will be held from April 26-28 in Berkeley, Calif. Whichever team can come away victorious this weekend will take the No. 1 seed, while the loser will slip to second.
In the February competition, USC junior Hannah Buckling, freshman Anni Espar and sophomore Monica Vavic all victimized the Cardinal for three goals each. Vavic currently leads the MPSF with 59 goals this season while junior Kaleigh Gilchrist (31 goals) is also among the top 20 scorers in the league.
As a team, USC is averaging a league-high 15.8 goals per game, one spot above Stanford, which sits at second with an average of 14 goals scored per game.
For the defensive stats, the two teams are flipped. The Cardinal leads the conference with a mere 4.29 goals allowed per game, while USC is right behind with a 4.95 mark.
While Stanford’s team defense has consistently overwhelmed opponents, its goalkeepers have also been solid when counted upon. Starting goalkeeper senior Kate Baldoni, who was named MPSF Player of the Week after an outstanding seven-save effort against UCLA, is second in the league with a 4.28 goals against average. The only player ahead of her is Stanford freshman Gabby Stone, who has allowed 4.22 goals per game in 31.25 quarters played.
USC goalkeeper Flora Bolonyai has been equally strong in giving up just 4.83 goals per game while manning the net the majority of the time for the Women of Troy. In the teams’ first meeting, Bolonyai made a crucial save on a five-meter penalty shot to maintain a slim 11-10 lead for USC.
Stanford’s attack will need to be firing on all cylinders for the Cardinal to hand the Women of Troy their first loss of the season. Stanford senior Melissa Seidemann is currently fourth in the MPSF with 55 goals this season, while the nine through 11 spots are also filled by Stanford’s Maggie Steffens (45 goals), Anna Yelizarova (42 goals) and Kiley Neushul (41 goals), respectively.
After the big matchup against USC on Saturday, Stanford will stay in Los Angeles to face No. 11 Loyola Marymount (17-9) on Sunday in another rematch of an early season game. On Jan. 27, the Cardinal defeated the Lions 14-8 at the UC-Santa Barbara tournament.
LMU has won eight of its last 10 games, with the only losses coming against USC and No. 5 Cal. The Lions’ top scorers are junior Alexandra Honny (41 goals) and senior Jessica Morelos (38 goals), but five Lions have scored at least 25 goals this season. When the teams first met, Honny did not score and Morelos tallied just once.
In goal, both freshman Claire Wright and sophomore Jordan White have performed well for LMU. In the teams’ first matchup, White made six saves in the game to help hold the Cardinal to just a 6-4 lead at halftime.
In the second half of that game, Stanford exploded for six goals in the third period and tacked on two more in the fourth quarter to take the 14-8 victory.
Saturday’s game against USC will begin at 4 p.m. and Sunday’s competition starts at noon.
Contact Jana Persky at jpersky ‘at’ stanford.edu.