By Jana Persky
In 2011 and 2012, the Stanford women’s water polo team responded from losses in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) Tournament to storm though the NCAA Tournament and seize the national title. After losing in the MPSF final two weeks ago, the No. 2 Cardinal (27-2) hopes to continue that streak and take a third straight national championship in this year’s tournament, which kicks off tonight in Boston.
This is the 13th straight appearance in the National Collegiate Championship for the Cardinal. It has reached the national title game in eight of the past 12 years and has never finished worse than third at the tournament.
Stanford faces No. 7 Iona in the tournament’s first round. In 2011, the two teams also met in the quarterfinals with the Cardinal coming away with a 22-7 win.
Stanford head coach John Tanner noted that Iona, the Metro Athletic Athletic Conference champion, plays a “wide-open and fast-paced style” and has done well in high-scoring games, but he also said he doubted that the Gaels had the depth to match up with his squad.
Instead, Tanner said his team was focused on a likely matchup with UCLA in Saturday’s semifinal. This would be the fourth matchup between the California rivals this season. Stanford followed up two regular season victories with an 11-7 win over the Bruins on April 27 in the MPSF semifinals.
Tanner said that starting fast would be key for his team in all games.
“We’ve played well defensively but haven’t gotten ourselves ready on offense when the whistle blows,” Tanner said. “We have to be prepared to start at 7 and not at 7:15.”
If the Cardinal can makes it to the finals, it could face No. 1 USC for the fourth time this season. Last year, Stanford beat USC 6-4 in the NCAA Tournament. This season, the two teams have been ranked No. 1 and No. 2 all year—neither Stanford nor USC has lost to another team.
After both squads took a victory during the regular season, the Women of Troy won the MPSF Championship with an 11-7 win in the final.
“It’s disappointing that we didn’t play better [in the MPSF],” said Tanner said. “We had some lapses. We aren’t really going to change much, but we are focused on being more consistent and sharp on offense and defense.”
Regardless of the opponent, Stanford has the firepower to score goals in bunches. The Cardinal has averaged an MPSF-leading 13.03 goals per game.
On Thursday, Stanford players junior Annika Dries, senior Melissa Seidemann and freshman Maggie Steffens were all named as finalists for the Peter J. Cutino Award which is given annually to the top collegiate water polo player. USC’s Monica Vavic was the fourth player nominated.
In 2011, Dries won the award, and Seidemann was named a finalist the same year. Stanford sophomore Kiley Neushul won the award last year.
In goal, Kate Baldoni will try to cap off her senior season with another national title. Last season, Baldoni was named NCAA Tournament MVP after a standout performance throughout the championship.
Stanford’s opening-round match will begin at 10:45 a.m. PST. A potential semifinal would begin at 4 p.m. PST on Saturday with the final at 2:15 p.m. PST on Sunday.
“It’s great being out in Boston and playing at Harvard,” Tanner said. “We’re really excited to start playing.”
Contact Jana Persky at jpersky ‘at’ stanford.edu.