Friday’s women’s water polo match will be a true clash of the titans, but different titans than many expected during the preseason. While many expected the No. 1 Cardinal (17-1, 3-0 MPSF) to be fighting for the top spot in the nation, most expected that the other team in the top two would be No. 3 USC and not No. 2 UCLA (21-2, 3-0). However, it is in fact the Bruins that hold that second-place spot in the latest rankings, presumably making Friday’s battle between Stanford and UCLA one for the top spot in the nation.
It will be the first time the teams have met in a non-tournament match this season; they split the two tournament games they have played, with Stanford winning the meeting at the Stanford Invitational 8-4, and UCLA taking the match at the UC-Irvine Invitational three weeks later 9-6 to hand Stanford its only loss of the season.
The Cardinal will enter the matchup on an eight-match winning streak that was punctuated by a decisive 14-4 victory over No. 5 Arizona State last weekend to follow up a 9-5 dethroning of then-No. 1 USC the weekend before that. With Stanford nearing the end of its season and a season-closing match against No. 4 Cal looming, it will be important for the Cardinal to push away the Bruins to ensure that they will enter that final key matchup, and the conference tournament after that, on a high note.
The UCLA team is led by junior Emily Donohoe, an offensive powerhouse who has scored 46 goals this season to lead the Bruins. The Upland, Calif., native has also scored four goals in a game five different times this season. She recorded one goal in UCLA’s win over Stanford earlier this season but was shut out in its loss, meaning that keeping Donohoe from being a factor in the match will be important if the Cardinal hope to claim its second victory this season over the Bruins.
Trying to keep Donohoe scoreless again and limit the damage from an inconsistent Bruins offense will be sophomore goalkeeper Gabby Stone, who will look to anchor a Cardinal defense coming off of dominant back-to-back outings against the powerful offenses of the Trojans and Sun Devils.
The defense has really clicked down the stretch heading into the end of the season and has decreased its opponents’ scoring output in each of Stanford’s last four matches. It also has not allowed more than 10 goals in any match this season, making the matchup between the Stanford defense and a UCLA offense that was held under 10 for a six-game stretch earlier this season likely to swing in favor of the Cardinal.
On the other side, UCLA’s defense is anchored by goalkeeper Sami Hill, who ranks second in the conference with a 4.77 goals-against average and third with 9.86 saves per game. Despite Stanford ranking second in goals per game in the conference with 13.94 and boasting five 30-goal scorers on the season, the UCLA defense has held Stanford to its two lowest scoring outputs of the season, allowing just 8 goals in the Cardinal’s win and holding Stanford to 6 in the Bruins’ win.
After the monumental matchup with the Bruins, Stanford will wrap up its regular-season road schedule with a Saturday match against Cal State-Bakersfield (12-18, 0-4), in which national-title caliber Stanford should have little problem dispatching a Roadrunners squad that has still not won a conference game this season.
Friday’s clash with the Bruins will start at 1:30 p.m. and will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks, while the Saturday matchup against the Roadrunners will start at 1 p.m.
Contact Carlie Tenenbaum at [email protected]