By James Hemker
Top-ranked Stanford women’s water polo (18-1, 6-0 MPSF) finished their 2019 regular season with two more wins to end the year undefeated in the MPSF for the first time since 2015. In the final out-of-conference contest, the Cardinal delivered a 24-8 beating to No. 9 UC Davis (17-11, 3-2 Big West) on Friday night. Coming back to celebrate Senior Day on Saturday, Stanford dispatched No. 20 San Jose State (10-13, 2-4 MPSF) to the tune of 22-4.
Seniors Madison Berggren, Kat Klass, Cassidy Wiley and Mackenzie Wiley all saw significant action in their final regular season home games. Despite the celebration, the stories of these four women at the Farm are far from over as Stanford will host both the MPSF and the NCAA tournaments this postseason.
“I’m really not focused on it being the end at all,” Klass said. “I’m just going to wait until NCAAs is over and then let the fact that I’m done with college water polo blindside me. I’m all in on finishing this season and putting all that I have into the last of my four years here.”
The UC Davis match featured five players recording hat tricks and three reaching the four-goal mark. Both Fischer sisters, junior Makenzie and sophomore Aria, each rattled the cage four times. Aria Fischer’s last three goals came in a one-minute flurry at the start of the second half.
Junior Hannah Shabb tied her season-high by pouring in four goals. Berggren recorded her fourth hat trick of the season, and freshman Lauren Indart took advantage of her time in the fourth quarter and tallied Stanford’s final three goals.
Sophomore Sarah Klass and freshman Chloe Harbilas each recorded two scores in the second half. Kat Klass and freshman Ryann Neushul also got in on the action with a goal a piece.
“Our game plan was just to attack the other team,” said Berggren. “We wanted to put together a complete game that we have been wanting to see this whole season, and we were really excited with what we did today.”
From the first sprint, UC Davis appeared overwhelmed by the Cardinal offense. The Aggies got on the board with three minutes remaining in the first quarter, but Stanford had already amassed five scores by that point. UC Davis ended the quarter in a five-goal hole, 7-2.
Less than ninety seconds into the second, Stanford added two more points. Three more goals came in eighty seconds to extend the lead to 10. The Aggies responded with one of their own in the final minute, but Shabb put in her third score with six seconds left to erase any momentum for UC Davis.
The Cardinal came out of the half and won its third of eight consecutive sprints during the weekend. Aria Fischer took advantage of the 6-on-5 power play to lengthen the lead to 12, 15-3. The ensuing Aggies possession went nowhere and Aria Fischer scored off the transition just 24 seconds later. She found the back of the net for the fourth time in an identical scenario half a minute later.
The Cardinal then fell into foul trouble and UC Davis was able to convert on two power plays for points five and six. The third ended with another Stanford goal to reach the 20-goal mark for the sixth time this season.
With the majority of the Cardinal reserves in, the fourth quarter was less relentless for the Aggies, though Stanford still outscored them 4-2, leading to the final 24-8 result.
Senior Day Smackdown
Saturday opened with a ceremony to honor the four members of the senior class. Since they joined the program, Stanford has enjoyed an 85-14 record and the 2017 NCAA championship.
“They are just amazing woman as students, athletes and people,” said head coach John Tanner. “They have all been great leaders and role models in their own distinct ways. The other thing I really enjoy about them is their ‘sky is the limit’ mentality. They are really interesting women to be around and they have been a joy to coach.”
In the water, the Cardinal immediately got to business against San Jose State, winning the first sprint and scoring on the opening possession. Neushul returned the next time down the pool to give Stanford the 2-0 lead with the first of her four goals.
Two more Cardinal goals sandwiched the first Spartan score against freshman goalie Thea Walsh with half the quarter gone.
Quiet up to the end of the first, Makenzie Fischer then found herself in the right spots in transition after two consecutive Stanford stops to extend the lead to five and then six goals.
The transition game has not been one of the strongest points for the Cardinal, but the team showed improvement throughout the weekend.
“The transitions have been a concern,” said Tanner. “So much of that is about awareness of as things are happening. We did a much better job of that today, and Fischer is so dynamic. She understands the game from both ends of the pool, so she can be really effective.”
The Spartans responded in the second with their best offensive quarter, scoring twice during the eight-minute period. Meanwhile, Cassidy Wiley put the ball in the cage during a 6-on-5 for her first of two Senior Day goals. Berggren also recorded her second goal of the day during that second period.
Makenzie Fischer claimed her 15th hat trick off the season with a second left in the first half to send the Cardinal into halftime up nine.
At the start of the third, Stanford was awarded a five-meter penalty shot, which Kat Klass converted for her second score of the weekend. Four more goals poured in from the Cardinal attack in the next three minutes to grow the lead to 16-3.
After a string of unsuccessful attempts, Makenzie Fischer recorded her fourth goal with just over two minutes remaining in the period. With that goal, she has tallied 76 scores on the season, which is the second most in a season by a Cardinal woman. Standing between her and the record is Ellen Estes’ 93 goal season in 1998. Stanford will have a maximum five games this postseason for Fischer to break the record.
With less than a minute remaining in the third quarter, Neushul rattled the cage for the fourth and final time, besting her previous career-high three goals in a game. Another buzzer beater goal at the end of the quarter gave Stanford a 19-3 lead heading into the fourth.
Like the game against UC Davis, the final quarter gave the team’s bench an opportunity to battle with the Spartans. Three more balls passed SJSU’s keeper while the Spartans were finally able to end a 17 minute scoring drought to bring the score to its final total, 22-4.
The win gave Stanford its first undefeated conference regular season since 2015. Despite the accomplishment, the team knows that any of the games against USC, UCLA or Cal could have gone either way.
“We had some rough patches in all the conference games,” said Tanner. “All three of the big games were all one-goal games, and we had to execute really well at the end of those games. Obviously, we’d rather not be in those tight spots, but I’m pleased with their poise in those games.”
In total, 11 different players scored during the weekend, with Makenzie Fischer leading the team, as expected, with eight goals. Aria Fischer and Shabb each put away six goals, while Berggren and Neushul tallied five a piece.
In the goal, sophomore starter Emalia Eichelberger played just the first 22 minutes against UC Davis. In that time, she stopped three shots, giving her exactly 100 saves on the season. Walsh played the majority of the weekend, stopping one shot on Friday and eight against the Spartans to match her single-game career high.
The team will return to action next Saturday in the MPSF semifinals against the winner of Cal and San Jose State.
No. 1 Stanford vs. No. 9 UC Davis
Stanford Goals: Aria Fischer 4, Makenzie Fischer 4, Hannah Shabb 4, Madison Berggren 3, Madison Stamen 3, Chloe Harbilas 2, Sarah Klass 2, Kat Klass 1, Ryann Neushul 1
Stanford Saves: Emalia Eichelberger 3, Thea Walsh 1
No. 1 Stanford vs. No. 20 San Jose State
Stanford Goals: Makenzie Fischer 4, Ryann Neushul 4, Madison Berggren 2, Aria Fischer 2, Chloe Harbilas 2, Sarah Klass 2, Hannah Shabb 2, Mackenzie Wiley 2, Lauren Indart 1, Kat Klass 1
Stanford Saves: Thea Walsh 8
Contact James Hemker at jahemker ‘at’ stanford.edu.