Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - May 7, 2010

Stanford women take shot at NCAA water polo title

Top-ranked squad earns No. 1 seed despite MPSF loss; Cardinal women's lacrosse team in NCAA play-in game

by Rick Eymer

The top-ranked Stanford women's water polo team will be in a good position to seek its first national title since 2006 after receiving the overall No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament, which gets underway Friday at San Diego State's Aztec Aquaplex.

UCLA (20-7), which beat USC in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament championship, 8-7, on Sunday, was awarded the third seed and will meet sixth-seeded Loyola Marymount (27-5) in the first round.

The Cardinal (24-2) plays eighth-seeded Pomona-Pitzer (18-14), the top-ranked team in NCAA Division II.

"I think I can speak for the seniors, the whole team, in expressing how excited we are for this opportunity," Stanford senior Kelly Holshouser said Monday. "It means a lot any time you can win a championship but fr the seniors it's our last chance and would mean a lot."

Second-seeded USC (22-3) plays seventh-seeded Marist (18-15) and No. 4 California (24-8) squares off with Michigan (32-6).

The Bruins, who hosted the conference tournament, knocked off Stanford in the semifinals before beating the Women of Troy. Sacred Heart Prep grad KK Clark scored twice for UCLA, the defending national champion.

Menlo School grads Camy Sullivan and Megan Burmeister and Sacred Heart Prep grad MJ Mordell are also on the Bruins' roster. Menlo School grad Elise Ponce is a sophomore goalkeeper for the Lions.

Palo Alto grad Remy Champion and Sacred Heart Prep grad Lindsay Dorst are members of the California roster, while Priory grad Constance Hiller is a freshman on the USC squad.

Michigan advanced with a 7-5 victory over Indiana in the Eastern Championships on Sunday. Princeton finished third with an 11-7 win over Hartwick as Paly grads Phoebe Champion (two) and Tanya Wilcox (one) scored goals. Bucknell finished fifth with an 8-7 overtime win over Brown. Paly grad Hallie Kennan scored once for Bucknell while Castilleja grad Kat Booher scored for Brown.

Women's lacrosse

The Mountain Pacific Sports Federation became a stronger conference last year, and the Stanford women's lacrosse team would like to thank its fellow members for that. The No. 15 Cardinal knew all along it would have its NCAA tournament destiny resting firmly in its grasp.

All Stanford (14-5) had to do was win the MPSF tournament title match against top-seeded Denver on its home field. The Pioneers handed Stanford one of its losses this year.

On top of that, Stanford was playing with nine field players (instead of the regulation 11) in the sudden death overtime period due to a pair of yellow cards. That's when destiny rose up from the mile high purgatory and gave the Cardinal one last opportunity.

Stanford forced a Pioneers' turnover in the final 10 seconds of the second overtime and Karen Schmidt found herself with the ball and time running out. She scored with five seconds remaining, giving Stanford an 11-10 victory over Denver, and earning the Cardinal a trip into NCAA competition for the first time in four years.

It was the moment second-year Stanford coach Amy Bokker and the senior class had been building toward since she stepped on campus.

"I knew they had the potential to be successful," Bokker said. "And I could not pass up the opportunity to join the best athletic department in the country."

Last year's team had no such guarantee concerning the NCAAs, and despite a late-season victory over No. 2 Penn and a 14-4 overall record, Stanford was not asked to join the party.

"That definitely lit a fire, especially in the current senior class, Bokker said."It was disappointing but it became a driving force."

Two conferences, outside the field of 15, are awarded berths in the play-in game based on the previous year's RPI rating. For the first time, the MPSF was awarded such a berth and Stanford knew it from day one of practice.

The conference improved its rating in large part due to the development of teams like California, Denver, Stanford and UC Davis. Adding Oregon and Fresno State into the mix was also beneficial.

Stanford hosts the NCAA play-in game Saturday at 1 p.m. against Massachusetts, which won the Atlantic-10 title and is a traditional powerhouse. The Minutewomen (10-9) qualified for their fifth NCAA tournament and own the 1982 national championship trophy.

"They're a physical team and we expect that going in," Bokker said. "Their strength is their offense, so our focus has to be on defense."

Stanford has some offense as well with senior Claire Hubbard running the show. Hubbard set a school mark with 39 assists this season and is the career leader with 86. She's one of five players with at least 40 points entering Saturday's contest.

"She's the point guard of our offense," Bokker said. "She's always heavily defended and face-guarded, which makes her performance even more impressive."

Senior Dana Lindsay, one of five co-captains that include Hubbard, leads the team with 39 goals, one ahead of junior Sarah Flynn.

Seniors Eleanor Foote, Lauren Schmidt and Julie Christy all share leadership duties for the Cardinal.

Foote, one of the top defenders, leads the team with 36 ground balls. Sophomore Paige Farmakis has 33 and Christy has 32.

Schmidt and Christy create the tempo and are big transition players for Stanford. Schmidt, the two-time MPSF Player of the Year, scored a late goal against Denver to force overtime.

"She's been a scoring force for us," Bokker said. "She has great speed and can transition out of the defense and draws a lot of attention. Julie has incredible game sense and is able the opposition well to set up teammates."

Senior Leigh Lucas, the MPSF Tournament MVP, is vital to Stanford's defensive presence. She had a huge game against California in the semifinals and normally marks up on the opposing team's best attacker.

"She's also important off the draw," Bokker said.

Seniors Amanda Schwab, Charity Fluharty and Sarah Blahnik have also contributed to making the transition easier for Bokker.

"Their leadership has been huge for us," Bokker said. "It took a little bit for them to buy into what we were trying to do but we eventually came together."

Junior goalkeeper Annie Read is among the top goalies in the nation with her .507 save percentage.

The schools are meeting for the first time on a lacrosse field. The Cardinal, 3-4 against ranked teams, enters the game with an RPI rating of 14, while the Minutewomen has an RPI of 34.

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