By Dylan Fugel
The No. 2 Stanford women’s water polo team will open up what it hopes will be a very successful campaign with the Stanford Invitational, which will bring together a star-studded field to the Avery Aquatic Center. The field consists of Stanford, No. 6 UC-Irvine, No. 7 Hawaii and No. 18 UC-Davis in Bracket A, while Bracket B is formed by No. 3 UCLA, No. 4 Cal, No. 12 San Jose State and No. 16 Michigan.
In the recent preseason MPSF poll, Stanford was ranked second by only a single point, with USC receiving four first-place votes to the Cardinal’s three. While USC beat the Card in last year’s NCAA tournament final in a quadruple-overtime thriller, Stanford returns many of its stronger members from last year’s team, including three Olympic gold medalists — sophomore driver Maggie Steffens, junior driver Kiley Neushul and senior two-meter Annika Dries. The Cardinal also welcomes a highly touted freshman class and will hope to return to the NCAA Women’s Water Polo Championship for a fifth straight year.
While the Cardinal will be favored to at least reach the final of this weekend’s invitational, none of the matches will be easy. Other U.S. National Team members present at the event include UCLA sophomores Rachel Fattal and Alys Williams, UCLA junior goalkeeper Sami Hill and UC Irvine junior defender Danielle Warde. Stanford’s opponents have put together strong team performances as well; UCLA and Hawaii finished third and fourth, respectively, in the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
Overall, the quality of the tournament should serve Stanford well going forward as it will act as an introduction to the high quality of play it will see in the MPSF. Although this weekend’s play will be an invitational, the Cardinal will look at it less as a tune-up and more as an early-season benchmark.
The Cardinal will hope to open the season in front of a large crowd at the Avery Aquatic Center and start the season the way it means to end it: with a win.
The Saturday session begins at 8:45 a.m., with Sunday’s matches starting at 8 a.m. The Cardinal is slated to face UC-Davis at 8:45 a.m. on Saturday, Hawaii at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday and UC-Irvine at 8 a.m. on Sunday, with the finals and consolation matches being held on Sunday afternoon.
Contact Dylan Fugel at dfugel ‘at’ stanford.edu.