The 2014 women’s water polo season was again expected to conclude in a hard-fought battle between USC and Stanford for the national championship after a star-studded Cardinal squad was felled in a four-overtime heartbreaker in last season’s NCAA title match.
Despite a stumble for No. 3 Stanford (16-1, 2-0 MPSF) at the UCI Invitational earlier this season, expectations of a championship meeting of the powerhouse teams were vindicated, with the Cardinal barreling through its schedule and No. 1 USC extending a winning streak that started last season to 27 matches. On Sunday at Avery Aquatic Center, the Cardinal emphatically snapped the Trojans’ (20-1, 5-1) streak as Stanford rode its exceptional defense to a 9-5 victory over the top-ranked team in the country.
With a Trojan offense that had been averaging 15.9 goals per match and a Stanford defense that had only been allowing six per match colliding in the pool, something had to give. And what gave on Sunday was the Trojan offense, which the Cardinal defense stifled and held to only five goals during the match.
Sophomore goalie Gabby Stone set a new career high with 17 saves, while the Cardinal defense buckled down to allow just two goals after the half.
While the USC offense scuffled throughout the match, Stanford was able to take advantage of a six-goal run spanning halftime to take an 8-3 lead that it would never look back from in the third period. Junior driver Cory Dodson shared the team lead with two goals in the match and began the Cardinal’s run with a goal to tie the game at 3 apiece and capping it off with a 3-on-2 goal to give the Cardinal a five-score advantage.
Sophomore driver Maggie Steffens also contributed two goals, including one in the first period as the Cardinal jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, to share the team lead in scoring.
The Cardinal will continue a tough stretch to close out its regular season as it moves forward into matchups against No. 5 Arizona State and No. 2 UCLA, both of which gave Stanford difficult matches in their last meetings with the Cardinal. While Arizona State fell just short of the upset as Stanford prevailed 11-10, UCLA was able to pull off the victory to hand Stanford its only defeat of the season.
Stanford will take on the Sun Devils at Avery Aquatic Center on Saturday at 1 p.m.
Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dpark027 ‘at’ stanford.edu.