Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - April 30, 2010

A return to NCAA polo tourney continues for Stanford, Eaton

by Keith Peters

Stanford senior water polo standout Kelly Eaton is a biology major who has been accepted into the master's program for the 2010-2011 school year. Thus, one decision already has been made for her.

"So, I don't have to think about getting a job for one more year," she said.

That's a good thing because Eaton has some other important things to think about these days, like trying to find a way to get herself (and her teammates) a national championship ring.

"We've come close the last three years and it would be nice to finish with a national championship," she said.

The Cardinal finished third at the NCAA Championships the past two years after taking second in 2007, Eaton's first season of water polo at Stanford. In order to have a chance at that NCAA ring, the Cardinal first has to get to San Diego for the playoffs.

Stanford begins that quest on Friday when it opens the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament at UCLA's Spieker Aquatic Center. The nationally No. 1-ranked Cardinal (22-1) will put its No. 1 seed on the line against No. 8 Arizona State (16-12) at 1:30 p.m.

Stanford defeated ASU in league play, 18-8, on April 18 in Tempe, Ariz. The Cardinal enters the tournament looking for its first title since 2006. Since that crown, Stanford has finished second twice (2007, '09) and third once (2008).

A victory in the tourney finale guarantees Stanford a berth in the NCAA playoffs, while a runnerup finish most likely sends the Cardinal, as well.

Advancing to NCAA play shouldn't be a problem for Stanford if it plays like it did last weekend in a big 7-6 overtime victory over then-No. 1 USC.

It was Senior Day for Eaton, the final home match of her Stanford career. To make it even more special for the Menlo-Atherton High grad, members of her very own fan club — age-group water polo players she coaches — were in the stands at Stanford's Avery Aquatic Center. Eaton couldn't disappoint her fans, now could she?

Of course not, so she didn't. Eaton scored the winning goal in the first of two overtimes to carry No. 2-ranked Stanford to a thrilling come-from-behind victory on Saturday.

The victory gave the Cardinal its first MPSF regular-season title since 2007 while handing the Trojans (6-1, 20-2) their second defeat of the season. Stanford also earned the top seed for the MPSF Tournament.

It was fitting that on Senior Day, seniors Kelsey Holshouser and Eaton each scored twice to lead the Cardinal. Senior two-meter Alex Koran drew a pair of five-meter penalties, which led to two Cardinal goals, while fellow two-meter senior Jessica Steffens made numerous key field blocks to deny a number of Trojan shots.

Eaton got the deciding goal with 1:20 left in the first of two overtime periods. Her second goal of the match gave her 159 in her career. Eaton, however, didn't take credit for the victory.

"I think our defense won the game," she said. "It just wasn't one goal."

But, it was the deciding one on a very important day for her teammates, who likely will earn the nation's No. 1 ranking heading into the final weeks of the season. No pressure.

"I've had some clutch goals in my career," said Eaton, "so I'm used to the pressure."

The pressure on was early as Stanford fell behind by 4-1 after one period. But, the Cardinal had been there before — in its first meeting with the Trojans that ended in a 10-7 win on Feb. 6.

"We were down 4-1 the last time we played them here," Eaton said. "In that one, we just decided to get one goal at a time, just chip away."

Stanford did that again Saturday with Monica Coughlan, Kim Krueger and Melissa Seidemann providing additional goals. Coughlan's goal in the second quarter trimmed Stanford's deficit to 4-2. Cardinal coach John Tanner said it helped turn things around after a first quarter where "We were just inept on offense." But, things changed when Coughlan finally broke the ice.

"That was a really inspiring goal," Tanner said, noting the combination of that and two important stops on USC power play situations provided a spark. When Holshouser scored with 50 seconds left before halftime, Stanford was down only 4-3 heading into halftime.

"We started playing smarter on offense, which allowed us to play better defense," Tanner explained.

Once back in the game, Cardinal goalie Amber Oland caught fire and played one of the best games of her career for the Cardinal, making 13 saves and holding USC, the MPSF's most prolific scoring team, to just six goals. After USC took a 4-1 lead by the five-minute mark of the second period, Oland stepped up and made 11 of her 13 saves the rest of the way and allowed just two goals over the final 27:17 of action.

Stanford finally took its first lead of the game when Menlo School grad Kim Krueger found the net for a 6-5 lead with 4:26 left to play. That goal appeared to be the winner until the Trojans caught a break in the final seconds when Oland blocked a shot by USC's Patricia Jancso. The rebound found an unmarked Kristen Dronberger, who fired a shot past Oland with six seconds to play.

That set the stage for Eaton in overtime, and her fan club couldn't have been happier.

(BULLET HERE)

The Bucknell women's water polo team is making some big waves on the East Coast, and the Bisons have sophomore Hallie Kennan from Palo Alto High to thank for it.

Kennan scored three goals and added three assists to help Bucknell defeat Princeton, 11-9, as the Bisons overcame the Tigers' home-pool advantage to win their first-ever Southern Championships on Sunday in Princeton, N.J.

Bucknell (15-9) now has won three straight games. Sunday's triumph earned the Bisons an automatic berth into this weekend's Eastern Championships in College Park, Md. It will be Bucknell's nine straight year in the event. The winner of the event will qualify for the NCAA Championships in San Diego. Only one team east of the Mississippi will advance.

Against Princeton, Kennan posted her fourth game this season of at least six points. Fellow Palo Alto High grad Tara Murao, a freshman, came off the bench and drew four of her team's eight ejections.

Bucknell jumped to a 4-1 first-quarter lead and never trailed. Palo Alto High grad Phoebe Champion scored a goal for Princeton (18-9), which was playing in its 10th straight Southern Championships title match.

Despite its runnerup finish, Princeton will join Bucknell in the Eastern Championships. Coincidently, the two have been paired in the opening round of the tournament on Friday after Bucknell received a No. 4 seed and Princeton at No. 5 seed. Michigan is the No. 1 seed while Hartwick is No. 2 and Indiana No. 3.

Harvard, which earned an at-large berth, features Palo Alto High grads Lizzie Abbott and Roxanne Pinto.

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