No. 1 Stanford women’s water polo (8-0) heads to Irvine this weekend to participate in the UC Irvine Invitational. This year’s tournament has a very impressive lineup and some familiar faces for the Cardinal squad.
The teams hail from all across the west and dominate the NCAA rankings. Ten of the 16 teams are from the top 12 and nine hail from the top 10. Though Stanford is undefeated thus far, this tournament will be the first extended stretch of top-notch competition the Cardinal have faced this season.
The Card will kick off the invitational with a match against the No. 20 Pacific Tigers (2-3). The Tigers are coming off a recent 8-5 upset of No. 11 UCSD, another team that will be present at the invitational. The Tigers have battled a tough schedule thus far; many of the teams they have played have been ranked and from the west — by far the strongest region in collegiate water polo. Stanford has seen Pacific once before this season and was able to handle the Tigers squad in a 13-4 victory. Though the game against the Tigers seems an inviting way for the Cardinal to start the tournament on paper, the Tigers have shown they can upset higher-ranked teams and will be looking to strike again.
This game is a must win for the Card; if they do it, it would put them into the winner’s bracket for the remainder of the tournament. A win would pit them against the victor of the No. 8 San Jose State Spartans (9-3) and the No. 9 CSUN Matadors (9-5), a game that will be similarly closely contested.
The game that looms however, is against the No. 2 UCLA Bruins (10-1). Though it is not a guarantee that the two teams will face off, the matchup is likely to happen at in the late stages of the tournament.
The history between these two teams is storied — a California rivalry that has dominated women’s water polo over the years, with occasional intrusions from No. 3 USC (10-0). Last season, the Cardinal held a 4-1 series advantage, besting the Bruins in the Stanford Invitational, the regular season, the MPSF tournament championship and the NCAA tournament final. Yet this weekend marks the anniversary of Stanford’s last-season 9-6 loss to UCLA on February 23, 2014 in the semifinals of the UC Irvine Invitational. This season the Card holds a 1-0 advantage after having beaten the Bruins 10-6 on Feb. 1. Though UCLA has been a top-four contender for the past five years, it has been that long since they’ve claimed the title; conversely, Stanford has claimed three of the last four.
This high level of competition is exactly what the Card needs to kick it into conference play. This is the last tournament of the season before conference finals and though the Card have been very successful so far this season, the team will have to continue its strong performances if it wants a shot at a repeat national championship.
Contact Carlie Tenenbaum at carliet ‘at’ stanford.edu.