By James Hemker
Second-seeded women’s water polo cruised past No. 7 University of Pacific (UoP) 18-9 in Friday’s NCAA quarterfinal match. The Cardinal offense was powered by sophomore Aria Fischer who tied her career best with five goals.
Junior Mackenzie Fischer contributed two goals, becoming the sixth player in program history with 200 career goals. She joins the likes of several Olympians, including Melissa Seidemann and Maggie Steffens. Mackenzie Fischer is also the second player to reach eighty goals in a season.
Stanford scored the first five goals of the game and never looked back. Behind the Fischer sisters, senior Madison Berggren tallied four scores for her fifth hat trick of the season. Senior Kat Klass and freshman Madison Stamen each poured in two apiece. Senior Mackenzie Wiley, sophomore Sarah Klass and freshman Chloe Harbilas were each able to find the back of the net as well.
“UoP is always well prepared and disciplined,” said head coach John Tanner. “They can give people a lot of problems. We combined an attacking mindset with a lot of focus. It’s nice with all the excitement of the first game of the tournament, especially for all the freshman.”
In the cage, redshirt sophomore Emalia Eichelberger started for the first quarter, and freshman Thea Walsh relieved her for the rest of the game. Eichelberger exited with three saves, two steals and two goals allowed. Walsh posted seven saves and allowed as many goals.
While the three years of upperclassmen all have multiple games of NCAA tournament experience, the freshmen entered the game with a combination of nerves and an excitement to perform.
“My roommate is a junior, and we were talking in the hotel about what it was going to be like,” said Harbilas. “It’s like any other game and obviously there are going to be nerves heading in, but it’s good to have those nerves and harness that. We obviously need to get through that game and keep winning since its win or go home, but she stressed having the mindset that it’s any other game and to just go in and get it done.”
Harbilas executed her mental game plan perfectly and drew first blood less than two minutes in. The next possession, Makenzie Fischer struck to make it two goals in less than 40 seconds. From there, Aria Fischer took over the game, scoring at the 3:43 mark and again at the 2:41 mark. The possession following her second goal, she then pulled up from distance and got the crossbar bounce to earn her natural hat trick. The Tigers finally responded in the closing seconds of the first quarter with their first goal.
“Our first four or five minutes of offense weren’t very good because we just expected something different and so we had to make adjustments on that,” said UoP head coach James Graham. “Overall it was an improvement, but by then the damage had been done. Obviously hindsight is 20-20, but I just feel like I didn’t put them in a very good position to win the game.”
UoP entered the second quarter and caught the Cardinal off guard. The Tigers secured the sprint then forced a 6-on-5, which they capitalized on. Stanford regained its footing in the second half of the period as four different Cardinal players scored. UoP found its way past Walsh twice in that time frame, but Aria Fischer end the half with her fourth goal to give Stanford the momentum.
Emerging from halftime, Berggren secured Stanford’s first sprint, and it quickly developed into Aria Fischer’s fifth and final goal. Berggren and Kat Klass sandwiched a UoP goal with scores of their own to make it 13-5 at the 4:28 mark.
A minute later, the Tigers were able to find an opening, but Berggren responded on the ensuing possession with her third of the game. A minute later, she converted a 5-meter penalty shot and increased the lead to nine, 15-6, as the two teams headed into the final quarter of play.
With the victory pretty well secured, Stanford spent most of its offense passing and trying to run out the clock. The Tigers were able to score three times against Stanford’s secondary defense, however the Cardinal offense kept pace and rattled UoP’s cage three more times as well.
Now in the semifinals, Stanford will face the winner of No. 3 UCLA and No. 6 Michigan tomorrow at 5 p.m. PST in Avery Aquatic Center.
Contact James Hemker at jahemker ‘at’ stanford.edu.