By Jose Saldana
No. 2 women’s water polo (20-4) had dominated almost every team on its way to the NCAA Championship game.
The keyword here is “almost”: No. 1 USC (26-1) defeated the Cardinal 5-4 in the title game. Stanford played the Trojans four times this season, and it lost to their SoCal rivals three times: in the regular season, in the MPSF tournament and in the NCAA title match.
Tied at 4-4 in the fourth quarter, the Trojans found the back of the net with 1:57 left for the go-ahead score. USC refused to allow the Cardinal to score for the remainder of the match to defeat Stanford.
The Cardinal couldn’t quite break through against an impressive USC team, whose only loss all season was against Stanford.
“That’s not how we pictured that going,” Stanford head coach John Tanner said on the title match. “The flow and rhythm of the game was herky-jerky, and we never felt that we were in good rhythm on offense. As a result, we were scrambling a lot.”
Despite the defeat, the Cardinal made it nine straight NCAA title appearances, which means children born since 2010 have only known a world with Stanford women’s water polo competing for a national title. Additionally, it had won five out of the last eight title matches.
Senior Katie Dudley and sophomore Makenzie Fischer had last gasp tries at equalizing, but both shots came up fruitless.
After Fischer’s shot with 22 seconds remaining, Stanford committed its eighth offensive foul. The number of fouls proved costly for an usually discipled program.
“I don’t think we’ve ever committed that many offensive fouls,” Tanner said. “That really hurt us.”
However, ultimately, the Trojans’ all-around game was too much for the Cardinal in the end.
“USC does a really good job of pressuring on defense, and then they keep the pressure on during counterattacks,” Tanner said of USC. “The final [Trojans] goal coming off a counterattack was something in the cards during the game.”
Fischer and senior Jordan Raney earned spots on the all-tournament first team while freshman Aria Fischer and junior Kat Klass saw themselves on the second team.
Stanford’s tournament run began on Friday against No. 8 UC Irvine. In a high-scoring affair, the Cardinal defeated the Anteaters 14-8.
The victory advanced the Cardinal to play a familiar foe in Bay Area rivals No. 3 Cal for a spot in the national title game. The Bears were one of the two teams to defeat Stanford this season, but even so, the Cardinal dropped 11 goals on Cal to advance to another NCAA championship.
In the championship game, the Cardinal could not find their offensive flow after scoring 25 goals in the previous two games. Fischer, who scored four goals in the semifinals and two goals in the quarterfinals, couldn’t find nylon as she went scoreless in the final.
Even with the loss, the Cardinal have experience an unprecedented amount of success the last decade and they should be favorites for a 10th straight appearance in the NCAA championship next year.
“The best part of this team is literally the team,” Dudley said. “The group of girls that we play with are just so inspiring. Although losing is not fun at all, being with the people that I am doing it with, I wouldn’t change any of that for the world.”
Contact Jose Saldana at jsaldana ‘at’ stanford.edu.