By Jana Persky
Stanford women’s water polo team has made a habit of using quick starts to overwhelm opponents early in the game. On Sunday, the tables were turned as the Cardinal (27-2) fell five goals behind No. 2 USC in the opening period of Sunday’s Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championship game. That early deficit proved the difference as USC ultimately captured the MPSF title with a shocking 11-7 win.
This was the third meeting between the teams this season. USC handed Stanford its first loss of the season on Feb. 24 at the UC-Irvine Invitational, but the Cardinal evened the score on April 13 in Los Angeles.
The Women of Troy are the only team to beat Stanford this season, but the Cardinal may have the opportunity for the ultimate revenge at the National Collegiate Championships, which will be held from May 10-12 in Boston. By virtue of winning the MPSF title, the Women of Troy earned an automatic bid into the tournament, but Stanford is expected to take one of the two at-large bids when the field is announced on Monday at 5 p.m.
On Sunday, USC senior Monica Vavic opened the scoring just 27 seconds into the game and junior Hannah Buckling doubled the lead at 6:23. The Women of Troy received a further momentum boost when USC goalie Flora Bolonyai blocked Stanford freshman Maggie Steffens’ five-meter penalty attempt a minute later, sparking another run of two goals in less than a minute. Buckling would score again in the final minute of the period to put Stanford behind 5-0 at the first break.
Stanford senior Melissa Seidemann opened the second period with two goals of her own to try to bring the Cardinal back into the game. USC answered back with two more goals before Seidemann completed the hat trick just before halftime for a 7-3 score going into the break.
USC scored the first three goals of the second half to extend the lead to 10-3. Steffens scored twice and junior Kaley Dodson chipped in a goal in the third quarter to give the Cardinal hope going into the final eight minutes, but after freshman Anna Yelizarova made it 11-7 with 4:35 left in the game, USC’s defense locked down and closed out the win.
Bolonyai made nine saves for the Trojans while senior Kate Baldoni recorded four saves for the Cardinal.
Stanford reached the final by defeating No. 4 UCLA in the semifinals on Saturday afternoon in another contest that ended with an 11-7 scoreline.
In this matchup, Stanford’s typical formula worked as junior Annika Dries staked the Cardinal to a 3-0 lead with a hat trick in the first 2:39 of the game. Sophomore Kiley Neushul also added a goal in the first period, which ended with Stanford leading 4-2.
The Cardinal then took control with a 5-0 streak that went through the halftime break. UCLA closed to 9-4, but Dries and Seidemann each added another goal to put the game out of reach. Dries finished with five goals while Seidemann recorded four. Neushul and Steffens were the other two scorers.
“[Dries and Seidemann] are really strong in front of the goal, but the thing that impressed me [on Saturday] was how quickly they moved the ball,” said Stanford head coach John Tanner. “They played like drivers in terms of their quickness with the ball and their perimeter play, and they were really strong in front of the goal.”
Baldoni made 10 saves for the game as the Bruins showed more offensive firepower than they did in the last meeting between the teams, an 8-1 Cardinal win on April 6.
“They had a couple people back from the last time we played them where they didn’t have a presence at two-meters,” Tanner said. “We knew we needed to be aggressive on defense and we wanted to be on attack as well.”
Freshman Gabby Stone also stepped into goal for the final minutes of the game and made three saves, including a UCLA penalty shot attempt.
With the championship game loss, Stanford’s MPSF title drought extends to seven years—the Cardinal has not won the MPSF championship since 2006. In 2011 and 2012, however, Stanford bounced back from conference tournament losses to take the top prize of a national championship. The Cardinal now has two weeks to prepare to do the same in 2013.
Contact Jana Persky at jpersky “at” stanford.edu.