With love in the air and the sun in the sky, the Cardinal brought the heat in the pool, beating both No. 12 San Diego State University and Fresno Pacific University this past weekend. The wins move the already top-ranked Card to a perfect 8-0 in the season and improves their two-season win streak to 24 straight.
The last squad to draw blood from the Cardinal was No. 2 UCLA at last year’s UC Irvine Invitational semifinal round. This loss however, was more than avenged when Stanford topped the Bruins 9-5 in the NCAA championship match. Since that loss last year, the team has looked rock solid.
This past weekend was no exception. Stanford took the pool Saturday morning fresh off of a two-week gameless stretch. The opponent, No. 12 SDSU, was firing off of a thrashing of host Fresno Pacific the night before, leaving both teams primed for a good match. Stanford, however, demonstrated a clear edge early and maintained an extremely high caliber of play to put away the Aztecs.
The 18-6 victory was the Cardinal’s seventh of the season and another by double digits, a trend for the Card this season. The offensive powerhouses of the season, Ashley Grossman and Kiley Neushul, both notched incredible performances Saturday morning. Grossman recorded a season-high six goals to push her team-leading season total to 20. Neushul’s four against the Aztecs kept her in close second at 18 on the year.
However, the 10 goals by those two account for barely half of the total goals recorded by the Cardinal. Combining on the other 8 goals were seven different players in what has become a standard distribution of offensive success.
The diversity of scoring threats has been key for the Cardinal thus far. Having big scorers like Neushul and Grossman can attract defensive attention, sometimes even forcing other teams to adjust with double team coverage, which leaves other players with more opportunities to get open. It is in these situations that the Cardinal has been lethal. The open player has been scoring. That is the sort of offensive discipline and efficiency that separates Stanford from other teams unable to convert in those situations.
Defensively, the Cardinal remained stalwart. Gabby Stone manned the cage for the first half; she recorded four saves in the first half — two per quarter — while only allowing two Aztec shots to sneak by. Emily Dorst took control in the third quarter protecting a 9-2 lead. She knocked out one attempt by SDSU but let four in before handing the game back to Stone, who shut out the fourth quarter. The successful defensive performance extends beyond the goalkeepers, however. Stanford’s ability to control the pace of play and retain possession limited the amount of time SDSU had to mount an attack. This momentum maintenance can have a huge effect on morale and enable leads to explode; Stanford took advantage of that.
The scoring was nowhere near over, however. Stanford returned to the pool later that day with even more firepower than before. Eleven different players slammed the cage in a 20-1 rout of host Fresno Pacific University. The Sunbirds’ lone strike came in the first quarter but was quickly drowned out when Stanford scored six of its own. Grossman and Neushul found themselves further down the scoresheet in this contest; Gurpreet Sohi tallied 4 goals, the team high for the game.
Defensively, neither team’s keeper got involved. It’s rare to see a game without any saves, but that anomaly illustrates the dominance the Cardinal has displayed this season. In its second 20-goal game, the team has shown prowess on both offense and defense, a breadth of scoring threats and a commitment to team play. Combining all three of these attributes has transformed the Cardinal from a good team, to a great team, to the best.
This weekend will be the test. The UC Irvine Invitational looms and marks the last time the Cardinal fell. The tournament features the top nine teams in the country and 11 of the top 12. Though this won’t be an easy tournament for the Cardinal, it is hard to imagine a more prepared team with success and momentum on their side.
Contact Carlie Tenenbaum at carliet ‘at’ stanford.edu.