This Valentine’s Day love may be in the air, but the No. 1 Stanford women’s water polo team will be in the pool. Stanford (6-0) will travel this weekend to Fresno after two weeks without a game, but not any time off. Instead, the Card had two weeks of hard practice to ensure they are ready coming out of the tournament-heavy beginning of the season. The tournaments have been lucrative for the Cardinal so far — including a sixth straight Stanford Invitational championship made sweeter by topping No. 2 UCLA in the final match. Despite these recent victories, however, the team remains focused on the big picture.
“As a team, we always try to look forward and focus on what is next,” said sophomore driver Jamie Neushul, a Daily staffer. “We take time to celebrate our accomplishments but I think we are focusing on keeping the mindset that we have a long season and a long way to go.”
Now, after two weeks of training, Stanford will put San Diego State (3-2) in the crosshairs. Historically, this has been a positive matchup for the Card, and last year Stanford recorded a sound 12-6 victory over the Aztecs. Stanford will look to keep the defense tight, for no team this year has scored more than eight goals against the Cardinal, and only once did anyone net more than six.
After starting strong with two wins over Hartwick and UC Santa Barbara, SDSU dropped the next two contests before claiming another victory against Hartwick. Stanford will face the Aztecs Saturday morning — the Cardinal’s first game of the weekend — and SDSU will be one game in after facing Fresno Pacific Friday night.
The Aztec offense has shown flashes of brilliance, as it has scored double digits in three of its games so far. But Stanford’s offense is no joke either, as the Card has hit double digits every time they’ve been in the pool this year. The biggest difference between the two teams has been margin of victory. One of SDSU’s wins (against UC Santa Barbara) and both losses have been by two goals or less, with Hartwick being the only opponent SDSU has truly put away.
The Cardinal’s results have been a different story: Stanford has won three of its six games thus far by more than 10, and the other three by at least three. The team’s offense has been overwhelming, although the team’s ultimate weapon has been its shutdown defense that has consistently frustrated accomplished opponents.
“I think the biggest team goal we have for Fresno and SDSU is to focus on defense and selflessness,” Neushul added. “We are primarily a defensive team and if we are all cohesive and together on defense, it makes it very difficult for other teams to score.” The team has done a good job of that thus far, and Saturday morning will be another good test.
San Diego State is only half the battle, however. After the Aztecs, Stanford will square off against the Fresno Pacific Sunbirds (1-6). The Sunbirds have had a rough season after opening with six straight losses before pulling out their first win last Saturday against Cal State Monterey Bay. This matchup will be a good opportunity for the Cardinal, who also have a good history against Fresno Pacific (20-4 victory last year), to practice the selfless defense Neushul highlighted.
“Our main goal will be to make sure we are all in sync on defense and making individual extra efforts,” Neushul explained.
Each game is an important step in the Cardinal’s quest to regain the national title and though the road won’t be easy, Stanford has a plan.
“We just need to focus on ourselves and what we want to do as a team rather than all the hype and outside pressure from others,” Neushul said. “We have expectations for ourselves and those are the ones we want to meet.”
With the team’s performance high and standards higher, Stanford heads to Fresno on Valentine’s Day to take the next step on the path to the national championship in matchups against San Diego State (11:30 a.m.) and Fresno Pacific (2:15 p.m.).
Contact Carlie Tenenbaum at carliet ‘at’ stanford.edu.