Stanford women’s water polo (19-4, 4-2 MPSF) will kick off its postseason in the MPSF Championships this weekend against No. 13 San Jose State (17-13, 1-5). With the NCAA Championships looming in mid-May, the conference tournament will provide the Cardinal with an opportunity to prime themselves for a run at their third straight national title, and their fifth in the past six seasons.
This year, however, the Cardinal have not followed their usual path of dominance. While most programs would be ecstatic with Stanford’s record and its No. 3 ranking, back-to-back losses to USC and UCLA mean that a quick return to winning form is required if the team hopes to meet its standards from recent seasons.
From 2010-15, the team went undefeated in regular-season conference play. This season, the Cardinal were blown out 8-3 by undefeated No. 1 USC and suffered a heartbreaking sudden-death overtime loss to No. 2 UCLA to mark their only two conference defeats over their last two games, in addition to non-conference losses to No. 6 Cal and the Trojans earlier this season.
With all of these MPSF teams featured in this weekend’s play, the tournament should prove a useful testing ground for whether Stanford can find a higher gear and match its West Coast counterparts in postseason play.
However, before having the chance to exact revenge on any of these teams, Stanford will have to defeat San Jose State in the quarterfinals of the tournament. The Cardinal won their three previous matchups with the Spartans early in the season, outscoring them 44-16 in some of their strongest showings.
The games against SJSU were marked by a variety of players’ scoring abilities, but team-leading goal-scorer Jamie Neushul had special performances, recording hat tricks in two of the games. The junior has scored 43 goals this season, with freshman Kat Klass tracking close behind with 39 — a statistic that bodes well for future seasons. Klass also collected her fourth MPSF/Kap7 Newcomer of the Week award on Tuesday after scoring twice in the loss to UCLA.
One of the key factors of success for the team has been its offense, which averages 12.22 goals a game, second in the conference only to UCLA (12.57). Continued strength in net will also be important if the team is to contend for another conference title. Junior keeper Julia Hermann’s 5.67 goals-against average and 8.43 saves per game both rank sixth in the conference.
The winner of this game will advance to the semifinal round on Saturday against the winner of No. 2 UCLA and No. 25 CSU Bakersfield. With the Bruins likely up next for Stanford if it progresses past San Jose State, the team will be looking for retribution for their recent defeat by penalty in sudden-death overtime. Having to go through the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country on the road to another conference title is a difficult task, but Stanford has both the experience and the pieces to overcome opposing strengths.
The championship match will take place on Sunday, with all games played in Bakersfield, California.
The Cardinal take on San Jose State on Friday at 12:45 p.m.
Contact Amanda McLean at ammclean ‘at’ stanford.edu.