By Evan Burke
The No. 3 Stanford women’s water polo team (21-5, 4-2 MPSF) entered the MPSF Championship Tournament with a lot to prove, having fallen to No. 1 USC and No. 2 UCLA in their most recent meetings. This past weekend the Cardinal traveled to Bakersfield in search of that redemption. The team would knock off several schools, including No. 2 UCLA, on their way to the championship match before ultimately falling to No. 1-ranked USC.
On Friday, Stanford played its first match against No. 13 San Jose State (18-15, 1-5). The first half was an offensive onslaught for the Cardinal; freshman Madison Berggren, sophomores Jordan Raney and Katie Dudley, junior Jamie Neushul and seniors Rachel Johnson and Anna Yelizarova all scored to give Stanford a 6-1 lead at the half. Such a thoroughly dominant and balanced performance allowed the Cardinal to cruise to a 10-6 victory against the overmatched Spartans. Berggren, Dudley and senior Gurpreet Sohi each finished with 2 goals.
Stanford then faced the No. 2-ranked UCLA Bruins in its next match on Saturday. The tilt came just a week removed from the two teams’ last match, an epic clash that UCLA won in sudden death overtime. The Cardinal would get their revenge this time, however, earning a 6-3 win and ousting the Bruins from the tournament. Julia Hermann had 14 saves on the day, the second most in a single game in the junior’s career.
The last seven came during a second half in which UCLA was held scoreless and the Cardinal were able to pull away. Junior Dani Jackovich and Neushul finished with 2 goals apiece, with Raney and freshman Kat Klass also finding the back of the net. The victory against UCLA, one of the best teams in the country, likely sealed a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the Cardinal and propelled them into the championship game against the Bruins’ crosstown rival, No. 1 USC.
Like it had against UCLA, Stanford came into the MPSF Championship having recently dropped a match to its adversary. This time, however, the Cardinal were unable to turn the tables, falling to the Trojans, 8-5.
Stanford was able to jump out to an early lead with goals from Sohi and Jackovich and held a 2-1 lead at halftime. The game remained tight in the third quarter, with goals from Raney and Sohi keeping the Cardinal on top after USC twice pulled even. The Cardinal, never having trailed in the game, took a 4-3 lead into the final frame.
It was there that USC would rally, scoring four unanswered goals and racing to a 7-4 advantage with a little over three minutes to go. The two teams would trade goals once more before the whistle sounded, allowing USC to clinch the MPSF Championship and the league’s automatic berth into the national tournament.
Though the Cardinal ultimately fell short in their bid for automatic qualification in the NCAAs, they have set themselves up for an at-large bid. Hermann proved her status as one of the MPSF’s elite goalkeepers, leading the tournament in saves and finishing third in save percentage.
The team will now await news of the seeding for the NCAA Tournament in Los Angeles, where it will in all likelihood be back in action in two weeks’ time.
Contact Evan Burke at eburke3 ‘at’ stanford.edu.