As predicted, the matchup between Stanford and UCLA — budding rivals and two of water polo’s most talented teams — was as physical, close and thrilling as ever.
Although Stanford led by three goals with five minutes remaining, UCLA scored two goals to bring the score within one with three minutes to play. The Bruins drew an exclusion at the 0:39 mark, giving them a man-up advantage, but the Cardinal’s defensive stand prevented a tying Bruins goal and secured the 8-7 win.
“Our 5-on-6 percentage was really good that game,” said senior Kiley Neushul. “We were dominating in that realm, which has kind of been the story between our rivalry with UCLA. It comes down to 6-on-5, 5-on-6 and I think we won that battle today.”
With this win, Stanford remains undefeated in the MPSF and improves to 19-1 on the season, as well as 2-1 against UCLA in 2015. The team will likely take back the No. 1 nationwide ranking, which it had relinquished to the Bruins in late February following its 7-6 overtime loss.
The Cardinal started the game in a commanding fashion, scoring three unanswered goals within two minutes from senior Ashley Grossman, Neushul and junior Maggie Steffens. Stanford also played strong defensively, preventing the Bruins from scoring their first goal until the final minute of the first quarter.
“Being at home and the atmosphere surrounding this game, what the stakes were — the No. 1 in MPSF I believe and our last loss to them obviously — we really were excited about this game,” said Neushul. “Our coach prepared us well, we prepared each other well. These past few weeks have been a good test for our team.”
Junior Gurpreet Sohi scored with 5:40 left before halftime to put the Cardinal ahead 4-1, but the Bruins fought back with two goals in the final minutes of the half to pull within one at intermission.
Neushul notched her final goal early in the third quarter to extend Stanford’s lead. Despite holding UCLA scoreless for nearly the entire period, which included an extra-man opportunity for the Bruins, the Cardinal gave up a goal with one second remaining on the clock. Not only did the goal bring the score back within one, but it also gave UCLA momentum going into the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, younger sibling Jamie Neushul scored two goals in the first two minutes of the final quarter, the latter of which was on a fastbreak play that left her one-on-one with UCLA’s goalie, to give Stanford a three-goal lead. The Bruins went on a 3-1 run over two and a half minutes to pull within one, and despite having opportunities to tie the game, UCLA was held off by the Cardinal’s shutdown defense.
“We’ve all been in this [close-game] situation before we came to Stanford,” said Kiley Neushul. “We’ve been prepared our whole lives to play in super competitive situations and [when UCLA was coming back] we look at each other and realize, ‘We always played against each other when we were younger, we were in this situation together and I know what you can do, you prove it to me everyday at practice.’”
Both Neushul sisters ended with two goals apiece, while Stone had five saves and helped hold the Bruins to 1-for-5 on 6-on-5 opportunities.
Despite such a statement win, during which the Cardinal led for the entire game, the team acknowledges that to come out with a repeat national title, it must make adjustments and improve immensely for the MPSF and NCAA tournaments, during which it could likely see UCLA another two times.
“There were blocks missed personally and so many things that we can work on,” said the younger Jamie Neushul.
“There’s a lot for us to work on still,” Kiley Neushul agreed. “A team like UCLA is going to capitalize and go for it at an end of the game and we have to be ready for it next time.”
After beating CSU Bakersfield on Sunday in a 20-5 drubbing on Senior Day — which was coincidentally the 100th victory in the careers of the senior class — Stanford is set for its final regular season game. The Cardinal will take on Cal in Berkeley on Thursday at 5 p.m. as they look to win their 39th consecutive regular season MPSF game.
Contact Alexa Philippou at aphil723 ‘at’ stanford.edu.