Sixty days. The countdown to when we compete for a national championship is moving quickly. Our focus now is on our MPSF matches and head-to-head games. We are emphasizing staying present and focusing on prepping ourselves for one game at a time.
This past Sunday we did just that. We spent the week prepping ourselves for our MPSF opener against No. 3 USC and executed, winning in overtime 12-9. The most encouraging thing that came out of that win was, once again, that we know we have a lot to work on and learn both offensively and defensively.
One of the most important factors of water polo is consistency and control, which are two components we constantly practice but also need to improve. In our game against USC, we started off strong by taking a pretty commanding lead at halftime. We seemed to have the pace of the game under control, which showed especially in the patience we had in front-court offense, but USC eventually managed to claw their way back and make things interesting in the fourth quarter.
Many people, namely Maggie Steffens and Kiley Neushul, made some serious extra efforts defensively to help us in the game. Ashley Grossman was also relentless, occupying space on offense in the center and being a terror for the other team to deal with. Gabby Stone was a wall in the cage, making it very difficult for USC to score. It was and always will be a team effort, but each of these individuals had notable performances.
Playing at USC was a great experience due to the competitive atmosphere present both amongst all the players in the water and the fans. Not only is USC an extremely successful aquatics school and an extremely well-coached team, but there were also a lot of people, cheering and noise, which are all things a player needs to be prepared to deal with. It gets harder to hear your coach and teammates, but also creates a very fun atmosphere.
The control that we harnessed in the first half of the game needs to stay consistent until the final buzzer rings. These next couple of weeks are a huge opportunity for us to focus on that goal in many different ways.
Right now, everyone is trying to control the balance between athletics and academics as we go into winter quarter finals. While water polo is always on our minds, we are students before athletes here at Stanford. A large part of learning control is being able to balance the workload and time that being a full-time student and athlete demands. The main focus for these next two weeks is acing our finals and making grades while simultaneously maintaining a high level of fitness.
The end of the quarter is often a stressful time, and maintaining a consistent fitness level and effort can become difficult, so it is encouraging to know that your teammates are on your side. The practice atmosphere includes a lot of conditioning, which gives us the chance to build each other up and push each other harder. It is a great window of time for us to get better before spring break.
Looking ahead, we will face Harvard in two weeks, which will be a very fun environment to get back into competition. Personally, I have never had the opportunity to play against a team from the East Coast, so I, and the rest of the younger players on the team, are very excited to see how things pan out. It is always interesting and exhilarating to face new opponents, and we know that Harvard will be very excited to play us as well.
Contact Jamie Neushul at jneushul ‘at’ stanford.edu.