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Water polo survives in thrilling finish against UCLA

Sophomore Aria Fischer (above) rattled in the game-winning goal with five seconds remaining in Stanford's win over UCLA on Saturday afternoon. (ERIN CHANG/Stanford Athletics)

No. 1 women’s water polo (16-1, 4-0 Pac-12) escaped with a 7-6 win over No. 3 UCLA (20-4, 3-1) on Saturday. Sophomore Aria Fischer scored the winning goal with just five seconds left to prevent a second consecutive overtime game.

The elder Fischer sister, junior Makenzie, provided the bulk of the Stanford offense with five of the seven goals. With those goals, she has tallied 186 through her career, which moves her into seventh place for most career goals by a Cardinal player. Margie Dingeldein (1999-2002) sits in sixth with 187 career goals.

“I was feeling good today,” said Makenzie Fischer. “We are feeling pretty fast as a team and attacking well, and people are finding me so it’s fun.”

Redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Emalia Eichelberger recorded six saves on 20 UCLA shots. Stanford attempted 27 shots, 11 of which were blocked by the Bruins’ keeper Carlee Kapana. Despite dropping 10 on the Bruins in a February win, Stanford was held to its lowest offensive output of the season.

“We were expecting a close match today,” said head coach John Tanner. “But it was great to get off to a good start in the game.”

The game opened slowly yet steadily in Stanford’s favor. Makenzie Fischer drew first blood at the 5:28 mark in the first half after the Cardinal stopped a UCLA power play.

Strong defense on both sides prevented any serious shots for three minutes before senior Kat Klass executed a quality lob shot to put Stanford up 2-0. Eichelberger then put an end to another Bruins 6-on-5 attempt to end the quarter.

Almost three minutes into the second quarter, UCLA was stopped again, and Eichelberger threw a long pass in transition to Mackenzie Fischer who made the most of the opportunity with a quick strike for a score.

Even though Stanford was awarded a power play at the end of the half, the offense was unable to convert, and the half ended with the slight 3-0 Stanford lead.

The second half opened to another Cardinal defensive stop, and the team executed a set play, which ended on Makenzie Fischer’s third goal with a second left on the shot clock.

That proved to be the only play in the third quarter that went Stanford’s way. Multiple exclusion penalties and turnovers allowed UCLA to mount a comeback.

“We thought we could stabilize during the third quarter and keep that cushion,” said Tanner. “However, we had a lot of turnovers and we took some poor shots that gave UCLA counterattack opportunities. That really got them in the flow, and then they scored some beautiful goals late to take that lead.”

The first Bruins goal came at 5:29 in the third thanks to a 6-on-5 play where UCLA found their extra woman directly in front of the goal.

Another powerplay at 2:56 let the Bruins cut the lead in half, 4-2. Stanford continued to struggle on the offensive front and the third quarter expired without any more action.

The final eight minutes opened with two more exclusions against the Cardinal. While tough defense prevented the first from amounting to anything, the second exclusion gave UCLA their third goal with 6:30 left in the game.

Two minutes later, the Bruins successfully tied the game, taking advantage of Stanford’s severe offensive drought. UCLA, on the other hand, has found their rhythm and they stole the lead with 2:44 left from a wicked backhanded shot.

The lead didn’t last long thanks to a quick response from Makenzie Fischer during a power play 14 seconds later.

“In that last half of the fourth quarter, the message was to execute our offense as practiced,” Tanner said. “We got into a position to do more with the ball and to have more options, compared to earlier in the fourth and third quarters when we were very one dimensional.”

With less than 90 seconds to go, the Bruins called timeout and it proved productive as they retook the lead with goal number six.

With enough time for two possessions, Stanford called a timeout to plan out their attack.

“We knew we had a minute and a half left, so we were going to get two chances,” Makenzie Fischer said. “We were down one goal, so we were just looking to score one, but then it was pretty awesome that we were able to execute both of our set plays.”

Because of a minor UCLA foul, Makenzie Fischer gained just enough breathing room on the reset to fire a laser. Her fifth and final score tied the game 6-6 at the 52 second mark.

UCLA still had plenty of time to score but the Cardinal defense remained stalwart, and Aria Fischer made the defensive play of the game, stealing the ball with 15 seconds left on the clock.

Hoping to send the game to overtime, UCLA made sure that the older Fischer was locked down. Tragically for the Bruins, they couldn’t keep a lid on both, and Aria Fischer rattled the cage from inside, leaving UCLA only five seconds for a Hail Mary attempt.

After a bizarre stoppage due to clock issues, the Bruins’ miracle shot was easily blocked by Eichelberger and the Cardinal faithful exhaled a sigh of relief.

The Cardinal extended their win streak over the Bruins to five games, and it marks their second consecutive one-point victory against a top-three team. Stanford is also in sole possession of first place in the Pac-12.

“These hard matchups are always fun,” said Makenzie Fischer. “We don’t get a whole lot of opportunities to have really good, close games. It’s hard to emulate in practice, so all this is really good practice for when we play in NCAAs.”

Stanford will return to action for the Big Splash at No. 5 Cal next Saturday.

Contact James Helmer at jahemker ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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James Hemker

James Hemker

James Hemker '21 is a Managing Editor of Sports. A computer science major, he has made the cross-country journey to the Farm from Baltimore, MD. After being tortured for years by the Redskins, Browns, and Orioles, the wide successes of the Cardinal have shown him that the teams you root for can in fact win championships. Contact James at jahemker 'at' stanford.edu.