Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - April 23, 2010

Making a final splash

Eaton playing final home game for Stanford water polo

by Rick Eymer

Kelly Eaton practically grew up at Avery Aquatic Center as a member of the Stanford Water Polo Club. On Saturday she'll be playing her final game there as an undergraduate student. Like the three other seniors on the second-ranked Cardinal women's water polo team, she'd like to go out a winner.

If everything goes according to plan, it will be a storybook ending.

Stanford (6-0, 21-1) meets visiting top-ranked USC (5-0, 19-1) on Saturday at 4 p.m., and there's nothing less than the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation regular-season title at stake, the top seed in next weekend's MPSF tournament and the upper hand in determining seeding at the NCAA championships.

"Here we are, talking about playing April 24 with No. 1 vs. No. 2, it's pretty exciting," Stanford coach John Tanner said. "Combined with all the Senior Day festivities it's a big deal."

Eaton, a Menlo-Atherton grad like her coach, will be honored along with Olympian Jessica Steffens, Kelly Holshouser and Alex Koran. It's a special day for the program and a victory over the Women of Troy would make it memorable.

Stanford, on a nine-game winning streak, handed USC its first and, currently, only loss of the season. The Women of Troy (who play at San Jose State on Friday) returned the favor a few weeks later.

Eaton, second on the team with 39 goals, has been a significant part of Stanford's success over the past four years.

"She really is an amazing player, a sparkplug," Tanner said. "She's the kind of player whom everybody looks to for inspiration."

Steffens, Holshouser and Koran have combined to score 42 more goals. Yet their value goes beyond offensive production. Steffens, a fifth-year senior, is one of the top defensive players in the nation. Her international experience has translated into a steady, positive influence on her teammates.

"She's handled herself with a lot of poise," Tanner said. "She commands respect because of her work ethic.'

For Tanner, Steffens' winning goal in the closing seconds of The Big Splash, an 8-7 win over California last weekend, was a special moment. All four seniors were involved in the play.

Holshouser made the pass to set up Steffens for the winning shot, while Koran was in play and Eaton nearby ready to redirect a rebound. They all scored a goal in the contest too.

USC, on a 17-game winning streak, has won six of the past 10 meetings between the team, making it one of the most hotly-contested rivalries in the MPSF.

Saturday's contest also features the top two (or three) goalies in the nation. USC's Tumua Anae leads the MPSF with 9.95 saves per game and allows 4.60 goals per game. Stanford's Amber Oland makes 6.47 saves and allows 4.20 goals a game.

Oland and Anae (the reigning MPSF Player of the Week) were teammates on the U.S. national team that competed in Canada last summer.

Cardinal Kate Baldoni, a former high school teammate of Anae's, makes 4.06 saves and allows 1.94 goals.

"She's learned a lot from Anae," Tanner said of Baldoni. "There's a lot of respect among those goalies."

USC freshman Constance Hiller honed her water polo skills with the Stanford Club team. She graduated from Priory.

"She has a late birthday so she always had to play up a level," Tanner said. "The fact she made their traveling team and is playing shows how prepared she was. She's a fast swimmer and good athlete. Her tough-mindedness and determination has helped her."

Hiller has recorded a pair of goals for USC, which will normally redshirt most of its freshmen.

Joelle Bekhazi (40 goals) and Kally Lucas (32) lead USC's offense. Melissa Seidemann leads the Cardinal with 40 goals. Sacred Heart Prep grads Pallavi Menon and Vee Dunlevie have combined for another 40 goals and Menlo School grad Kim Krueger has 30 goals.

Stanford hopes to hit the accelerator into postseason play with Saturday's game against the Women of Troy.

Men's volleyball

Mountain Pacific Sports Federation regular-season champion Stanford (19-6) opens the conference tournament at Maples Pavilion on Saturday at 7 p.m. against UC Irvine (15-14).

Stanford sophomore outside hitter Brad Lawson was named the MPSF Player of the Year on Thursday. He led the Cardinal in kills (430, 4.78 K/S), service aces (33, 0.37 SA/S), was third in digs (137, 1.52 D/S), fourth in assists (40, 0.44 A/S), and fifth in blocks (48, 0.53 B/S).

Lawson, who has started every match in his two seasons, hit .384 and was perhaps Stanford's most consistent player.

John Kosty was named Coach of the Year while Cardinal senior setter Kawika Shoji joined Lawson on the first team.

Senior opposite hitter Evan Romero and sophomore libero Erik Shoji were named to the second team.

The Anteaters are the national defending champions and cannot be taken lightly despite finishing eighth in the conference standings. UC Irvine lost eight times in five sets, including last weekend to Stanford.

The Anteaters have won six of their last 10 matches, with the four losses all in the fifth set. They recovered from a 3-6 start to achieve a winning record.

Carson Clark leads UC Irvine with 5.01 kills a game, while Kevin Wynne has 1.29 blocks a set.

Women's tennis

After waiting 17 days and a shift of 334 miles away from its own court to complete a dual match, the Stanford women's tennis team was able to do something it has been accustomed to since 1999 — keep its legendary homecourt winning streak alive.

As a reward for the wait, the Cardinal needed less than an hour to claim its first Pac-10 championship since a 21-year title run came to a halt last season.

All this was accomplished when Stanford surrendered only seven games combined while sweeping a doubles point convincingly to post a long-await 4-3 victory over USC on an overcast Wednesday morning in Ojai.

Stanford (20-1, 8-0 Pac-10) completes an undefeated conference season and should receive a favorable seed in next month's NCAA Tournament, having won 13 straight matches since suffering its only loss of the year back on Feb. 26, a 6-1 defeat to then-No. 4 UCLA in Los Angeles.

After storming through the league as last year's Pac-10 champion, USC (13-9, 5-3 Pac-10) is a likely postseason candidate but wasn't even in the running for this year's conference title.

Wednesday's doubles point only needed to be played because Stanford's match against USC back on April 4 was suspended by rain after each team had won three singles matches to force a 3-3 score. The match was originally scheduled for April 2, but was postponed two days later because of rain.

So, there was still an opportunity for UCLA (19-3, 6-1 Pac-10) to tie Stanford with a 7-1 conference record and snag a share of the Pac-10 title. Had Stanford lost the doubles point, UCLA and California would have squared off in a full dual match two hours later because their April 2 match in Berkeley also was cancelled by stormy weather in the Bay Area. A win by the Bruins would have made them Pac-10 co-champions with the Cardinal, but Stanford would have received the Pac-10's automatic bid to the postseason thanks to its 5-2 victory over UCLA back on April 3.

Conference officials decided the Stanford-USC doubles point would be played out this morning in Ojai, site of this weekend's Pac-10 Championships.

Playing one extra match but also receiving one less day of rest before the individual tournament kicks off didn't seem to affect Stanford. The No. 3 team of Veronica Li and Carolyn McVeigh won its 13th straight match, pounding USC's Sarah Fansler and Lyndsay Kinstler, 8-2. Stanford's top team and the nation's second-ranked duo of Hilary Barte and Lindsay Burdette followed with an 8-2 victory. And the Cardinal's No. 2 team of freshmen Mallory Burdette and Stacey Tan coasted to an 8-3 triumph.

In addition to capturing the Pac-10 title, Stanford managed to keep its NCAA-record home winning streak in tact despite being placed in the unique position of having to do so at a neutral site -- ironically located closer to its opponent. Late Tuesday afternoon, the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA), along with the NCAA, ruled the Stanford-USC match would count as a home match for Stanford, since the original singles competition was played at the Taube Family Tennis Stadium on April 4 with each team collecting three points apiece to force a 3-3 tie.

So, after winning the doubles point on Wednesday, Stanford now has won 162 consecutive matches at home. The eye-popping streak spans 11 years since No. 4 California pulled a 5-4 upset back on Feb. 27, 1999.

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