Heartbreak befell the No. 1 Cardinal this weekend, as the top-ranked women’s water polo team in the nation fell to No. 4 California 8-7 in Saturday’s MPSF tournament semifinals.
It was only the second loss of the season for the team and its third in the past two years. Though Stanford went on to defeat USC and claim third place, it was still a disappointing outing for a team with expectations as high as the Cardinal’s.
Cal jumped out to a quick lead, closing the first quarter up 4-1. Stanford closed the gap a bit moving into halftime, outscoring the Bears 2-1 in the second period. But the team still went into halftime down 5-2, a deficit that was never overcome.
The third quarter kept Cal on top, and the drama came in the final period when the Cardinal made a full-powered shot at a comeback. Senior Kiley Neushul came roaring back in the fourth quarter with 2 of the team’s 3 goals. However, the team would ultimately fall short, as its last-ditch attempt came within one goal of tying the match.
With 25 seconds left in the match, Stanford gave one final push for victory. Sophomore Jamie Neushul lost her defender to get free on the back post. Her shot, however, was denied by the crossbar.
Fortunately for Stanford, the shot rebounded to junior Anna Yelizarova. Yelizarova, however, was unable to control the rebound and the ball was lost to a skirmish.
Senior Ashley Grossman managed to gain a sliver of possession, but her quick shot was blocked by the Cal goalkeeper. The Bears grabbed the deflection and maintained possession to run out the clock.
This 1-goal defeat marks the first time the Cardinal have lost to Cal since 2000.
The Cardinal were down but not out, however. They made a quick turnaround after the loss and beat the USC Trojans the next day, 9-6. This Cardinal ability to turn things around serves as a reminder that losing the MPSF Tournament means nothing in respect to the team’s chances at the NCAA crown.
“We talked about responding,” said senior Ashley Grossman after the tournament. “I think that’s been one of our themes this season.”
Stanford’s offense showed its usual spark against USC, with Jamie Neushul, junior Maggie Steffens and Grossman each scoring twice. The first half looked a bit dangerous — the Cardinal actually went into halftime losing 5-4. However, the second half was all Stanford as the team tallied 4 more points to the Trojans’ 1.
Junior goalkeeper Gabby Stone hit double-digit saves, racking up 11 for the day.
Head coach John Tanner was pleased with the performance. “We do what we do. There were numerous field blocks and [Stone] played a great game,” he said. “There was much better balance at both ends than yesterday.”
The next time Stanford takes the pool will be during the NCAA tournament, hosted at Stanford starting May 8.
Contact Carlie Tenenbaum at carliet ‘at’ stanford.edu.