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Women’s water polo looks for repeat performance

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Women’s water polo will kick off this season with high expectations and high morale. The defending national champion will start this year atop the polls with a well-deserved No. 1 ranking. However, the challenge of this season will be for the Cardinal to retain their title. Coming off of an incredible 25-1 season, in which their only loss was a tournament game against UCLA, the Cardinal, as usual, will face a tough road to the championship.

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Kiley Neushul’s strong start to the season will need to continue if Stanford want to re-reach the mountaintop. (MIKE KHEIR/The Stanford Daily)

The team did not compete in the Stanford Invitational to start the season (the tournament was scheduled for Jan. 31-Feb. 1 this year), a tournament that they won last year by beating UC Davis, Hawaii, UC Irvine and UCLA. Rather, they opted to open with a series of international exhibition games. In the first match against the People’s Republic of China, Stanford showed its championship poise and prowess with a 10-6 win. Senior two-meter Ashley Grossman and senior driver Kiley Neushul had two goals apiece, as did sophomore driver Jaime Neushul. Despite never trailing, the Cardinal needed the 13 saves recorded by sophomore goalie Gabby Stone to lock down the Chinese, who are the world’s No. 2.

Just five hours later, the team was back in the pool to challenge the Brazilians. Riding their hot streaks, both Grossman and Kiley Neushul netted hat tricks in the first three periods of play. The team was solid on both sides of the ball. Offensively, Stanford presented six different goal scorers, two of them freshmen, to round out a potent attack. Defensively, Stone split time with senior goalie Emily Dorst, each of whom tallied six saves. Four Brazilians were able to combine for the team’s six goals, but as in the game against China, the Cardinal never trailed and pulled out a 13-6 victory. This international sweep gave the Cardinal excellent momentum to begin the regular season.

The domestic season began Jan. 17 with a game against the University of the Pacific. Carrying the same energy they displayed against China and Brazil, Stanford (2-0) unloaded its offensive firepower against the Tigers. In a 14-3 thrashing, 10 Cardinal players tallied goals. This is an important sign for Stanford moving forward because it showed real depth; goals were scored by starters and substitutes, returners and rookies. This type of effective depth will be crucial as the season progresses and fatigue and injury become serious factors. But clearly neither of these was a factor this weekend as the Cardinal continued its dominance with a crushing shutout of CSU Monterey Bay.

Eleven Stanford caps contributed to the 20-goal defeat of CSU Monterey Bay, showing an even greater depth than was evidenced in the University of the Pacific game earlier that day. Though many of the goal scorers overlapped, there were some fresh faces on the scorecard, proving that the Cardinal truly can do whatever they need to get the job done. In both the Pacific game and the CSUMB game, the Stanford cage was fairly busy; Stone recorded nine saves against Pacific and Dorst nabbed eight against CSUMB. With four solid wins both at home and internationally secured this far, the Cardinal will turn its focus forward. Up next is the Stanford Invitational.

Looking to defend not only its national, but tournament title, Stanford will have to battle UC Davis, UC Irvine and San Jose State. Though no game is a given, the Cardinal will be riding a wave of momentum into the tournament. An exciting season lies ahead for the team, and although pressures will be high, the solid start to the season indicates a team more than capable of living up to expectations.

Contact Carlie Tenebaum at carliet ‘at’ stanford.edu

I’m Carlie Tenenbaum and I’m a sophomore. I’m from San Diego, born and raised, but love life up here on the Farm. I’m a political science major by day, and a sports writer off the clock. I cover field hockey, women’s lacrosse, and bits of both men’s and women’s water polo. I played both field hockey and lacrosse in high school and love staying connected to the sports through writing.