In a nail-biting 8-7 finish, the No. 2 Cardinal (23-3) upset No. 1 UCLA (24-2) to win it all in the NCAA women’s water polo championships this Sunday. Stanford secured the victory in the last 30 seconds of the game off an interception and the following shot as time ran out.
“I’m so proud,” said tournament MVP senior Maggie Steffens. “The first thing I said to my team was ‘thank you for an incredible season.’”
The weekend was full of close games, with four strong California teams, USC, UCLA, Cal and Stanford, looking to capture the title. To get to the final match-up, Stanford first needed to get through No. 3 USC. No team took a strong lead throughout the first half, and the intermission ended with both teams tied at six. At the beginning of third, USC started to pull away after a couple of power play goals, pushing its lead to 8-6. The Cardinal rallied, and on their next possession, sophomore Madison Berggren took a powerful lefty shot from the outside to put the team within one. Immediately following the goal, sophomore Kat Klass lobbed one over Trojan goalkeeper Amanda Longan to tie the score 8-8.
USC would take the lead only one more time in the game, going up 9-8 before junior Jordan Raney scored twice within two minutes. Raney’s first goal came during a power play off a pass from Steffens. Her second came off another assist from Steffens to put Stanford up with 3:46 remaining.
Senior Gabby Stone had five saves and successfully protected the lead, ultimately forcing USC into a shot clock violation with only 31 seconds remaining.
With this win, the momentum was with the Cardinal heading into the championship matchup against UCLA. This was Stanford’s eighth consecutive final — the team has appeared in every championship matchup since 2010 and has won four of the last six.
Unlike in the USC game, Stanford was able to maintain at least a one-goal lead throughout the match. On the Cardinal’s first possession, Berggren capitalized with a shot that went right under Bruin goalie Carlee Kapana’s right arm. Raney would add another goal to put the Cardinal up by two.
Stanford was able to maintain the strong defensive presence that it showed against USC, limiting UCLA to just one goal in each of the first two quarters to keep the lead 5-2 going into intermission.
In the third quarter, UCLA started to pose more of a threat, limiting the Cardinal to just one goal. However, the Bruins were unable to capitalize offensively, only coming within two after three. While the UCLA tried to ride a wave of momentum at the start of the fourth, coming within one goal, Stanford was able to bring its lead back to two, which would prove to be vital. Within the last minute, UCLA freshman Maddie Musselman netted two goals, and the match was tied at seven.
As another NCAA final would be decided in the last minute of play — this is the third straight year with the national championship being decided on a goal in the final 15 seconds — Stanford ensured that it would be on the right side of history. With less than 30 seconds to go, Steffens intercepted a pass, and Stanford called its last timeout. Off the resulting five-meter line, Steffens scored to secure the lead 8-7, and the championship.
The significance of the win was not lost on Steffens, who closed out her collegiate career on top once again:
“That was 113 for Stanford — it put Stanford as a school and as a community right there with UCLA and the other schools that had been winning national championships for a long time before us. It meant a lot to us and our school. I’m getting emotional just thinking about it being my last time, but I’m very proud of this team and representing the Card.”
Contact Julia Massaro at jmassaro ‘at’ stanford.edu.