By James Hemker
For the 19th consecutive year, the women’s water polo team will be hunting for hardware as it hosts the 2019 NCAA women’s water polo tournament. Having won five of the last eight titles, No. 2 Stanford (20-2) will be looking for its seventh title in program history.
After a tough overtime defeat to USC in the MPSF finals, the Cardinal earned the second-seed in the tourney with an at-large bid. Stanford is the only school to have qualified for every NCAA tournament since its inception in 2001.
Despite losing the MPSF title to USC, Stanford can remain confident in its ability to perform during the NCAA’s. The team has won the conference just once in the last 13 seasons, and yet it has missed just four NCAA finals since 2001.
This year’s team boasts the strongest offense in the conference, averaging 16.09 goals-per-game, which is over two goals more than second-place USC (13.89). Junior Makenzie Fischer has emerged as one of the greatest scorers in Stanford history. Her 3.71 goal-per-game average is well beyond that of any other player, and she could be just the third MPSF player to average north of three goals-a-game in the last fifteen years. She currently sits at 199 career goals, and her 76 goals this year are the second most in a season in school history.
Fischer is joined in the top-15 on the MPSF scoring chart by her sister sophomore Aria Fischer (seventh; 2.19), sophomore Sarah Klass (ninth; 1.86), senior Kat Klass (12th; 1.57) and freshman Ryann Neushul (15th; 1.45).
Stanford also brings the second-best defense to the tournament. The Trojans (4.33) are the only team that allow fewer goals per game than Stanford (6.50). In the cage, redshirt sophomore Emalia Eichelberger has posted the third most saves-per-game (9.12), and she allows the fourth fewest goals-per-game (7.40).
In recognition of the excellent year the team has put together, the Cardinal swept the conference awards. Makenzie Fischer was named the MPSF Player of the Year, Neushul earned MPSF Newcomer of the Year honors, and head coach John Tanner took home MPSF Coach of the Year. It was also announced that Tanner will be inducted into the US Water Polo Hall of Fame in June.
The Cardinal are set to play No. 7 University of Pacific in the first round on Friday. In the two teams’ previous meeting this year, the Tigers were handled without issue, 14-3. Pacific failed to score in the first half, and Kat Klass paced the team with a hat trick while nine other players rattled the cage.
The rest of the bracket is composed of top-seeded USC, No. 3 UCLA, No. 4 Cal, No. 5 Hawai’i, No. 6 Michigan and No. 8 UC San Diego. Stanford holds an 8-2 record against the field this year, with both losses coming at the hands of the Trojans.
First sprint between the Cardinal and the Tigers is set for 3:30 p.m. PST at Avery Aquatic Center. The winner between the Cardinal and the Tigers will square off against UCLA or Michigan on Saturday at 5 p.m. PST.
Contact James Hemker at jahemker ‘at’ stanford.edu.