By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
Sacred Heart Prep grad Pallavi Menon has spent much of her athletic life at Avery Aquatic Center. A senior driver with the Stanford women's water polo team, she'll have one last go-around at her stomping grounds this weekend.
The top-ranked and top-seeded Cardinal (21-1) hosts the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament and will meet No. 8 seed Hawaii (10-12) on Friday in a quarterfinal match at 11 a.m.
No. 2 UCLA takes on No. 7 San Diego State, No. 3 USC meets No. 6 San Jose State and No. 4 Arizona State plays No. 5 California in other quarterfinal games.
The championship match will be Sunday at 4 p.m., with third place decided at 2:30 p.m.
The tournament winner receives an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament, which will be held at San Diego State beginning May 11.
Menon won't be alone in finishing her college career at Stanford as former Gators' teammate KK Clark is a senior at UCLA. Sacred Heart Prep grad Lindsay Dorst, a junior at California, also will join in the celebration.
The Dorst family is well-represented in this weekend's tournament, a thankful relief for their parents, who won't have to stray far to watch their daughters in action. Menlo-Atherton grads Emily Dorst (Stanford) and Becca Dorst (UCLA) also will be in action.
Two others familiar with Avery Aquatic Center are also making appearances. Woodside Priory grad Constance Hiller plays for USC and M-A grad Morgan Leech is at Arizona State.
While Stanford hopes to be the team celebrating Sunday, the Cardinal will likely be joined by at least three other MPSF teams at the national championships, an eight-team affair.
The MPSF is, by far, the strongest conference in the nation, with seven of the eight teams ranked among the nation's top nine. Hawaii is ranked No. 15.
Stanford, the defending national champion, is a lock to reach the national tournament however the conference championships play out. The final three at-large bids could be decided as late as the fifth-place match.
Cardinal coach John Tanner, an M-A grad himself, knew he would be without Olympians Melissa Seidermann, Annika Dries and future freshman Maggie Steffens this season. From the outside, it appeared Stanford would be vulnerable this season. Tanner kept insisting there was plenty of talent available to compete for the national title.
Kaley Dodson, Alyssa Lo, Kate Baldoni and Menon, among others, proved him right. The Cardinal lost three of its top four scorers from last year, losing 152 combined goals from Seidemann, Dries and Menlo School grad Kim Krueger.
Dodson, Lo and Menon, along with freshmen Kiley Neushul and Ashley Grossman, stepped up to fill in the missing pieces.
"This year's group comes back eager to prove themselves as great water polo players and to craft a great championship team," Tanner said at the beginning of the season. "We have a lot of players who are just great water polo players and can play anywhere in the pool."
Junior goalie Kate Baldoni stepped in for the departed All-American Amber Oland, Menon, Lo and fellow seniors Cassie Churnside and Monica Coughlan stepped in to provide leadership and everybody else simply stepped up to contribute for another run at the national title.
Stanford has won 49 of its past 51 contests dating to a loss in the 2010 national championship game. Dodson, the reigning MPSF Player of the Week, has been a vital part of that run. Neushul earned her fourth MPSF Newcomer of the Week award this week, and was named Player of the Week earlier this season. Grossman is a three-time MPSF Newcomer of the Week.
Often overlooked are the contributions from the rest of the roster, which include Dorst, juniors Jillian Garton, Victoria Kennedy and Alexis Lee, and sophomore Kaitlyn Lo, Lexie Ross and Kelsey Suggs. Catherine Carpenter and Cory Dodson add to a sparkling freshmen class.
The tournament continues Saturday and Sunday, with matches beginning at 11 a.m. each day.
2012 MPSF TOURNAMENT
Game 1 -- Stanford vs. Hawaii, 11 a.m.
Game 2 -- UCLA vs. San Diego State, 12:30 p.m.
Game 3 -- USC vs. San Jose State, 2:30 p.m.
Game 4 -- Arizona State vs. California, 4 p.m.
Game 5 -- losers of Games 1 and 4, 11 a.m.
Game 6 -- losers of Games 2 and 3, 12:30 p.m.
Game 7 -- winners of Games 1 and 4, 2:20 p.m.
Game 8 -- winners of Games 2 and 3, 4 p.m.
Game 9 -- losers of Games 5 and 6 (7th place), 11 a.m.
Game 10 -- winners of Games 5 and 6 (5th place), 2:30 p.m.
Game 11 -- losers of Games 7 and 8 (3rd place), 2:30 p.m.
Game 12 -- winners of Games 7 and 8 (1st place), 4 p.m.