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Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - April 19, 2013

Cardinal teams have a very Big weekend on tap

To start with, tennis squads, women's water polo plus track and field all take on their counterparts from California

by Rick Eymer

It's another "Big Week" for Stanford athletics, literally. There's the "Big Splash," two "Big Serves," and the "Big Meet."

And then there are two very big meets for Cardinal gymnasts. The men are competing for the NCAA title this weekend at Penn State, and the women compete for a spot in the finals at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion.

The softball team travels to Washington for a three-game Pac-12 series and the baseball team hosts defending NCAA champion Arizona in a three-game conference series.

Still not satisfied? How about a little rowing, women's lacrosse, sand volleyball? It's all happening this weekend.

The top-ranked Stanford women's water polo team completes the regular season Friday with the Big Splash at No. 5 California.

The Cardinal (25-1 overall, 5-0 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) clinched the top seed for next week's MPSF tournament with a 6-4 win at then-No. 1 USC last Saturday.

Stanford looks to extend its current 32-game winning streak against California. It's been awhile for the Bears, who last beat Stanford on March 26, 2000. The rivalry is not as lopsided as it seems though. Cal has taken the Cardinal to overtime on several occasions over the years.

The odd thing about this weekend is that it marks the first meeting between the two schools this season. They tend to meet at in-season tournaments.

It may not be the last meeting, however, as the Bears and Stanford could meet in the semifinals of the conference tournament.

Stanford is led by 59 goals from senior Melissa Seidemann, the reigning MPSF Player of the Week for helping the Cardinal beat USC and No. 11 Loyola Marymount.

Maggie Steffens (48 goals), Kiley Neushul (44) and Anna Yelizarova (43) are also over the 40-goal mark this year for the Cardinal.

Senior goalie Kate Baldoni continued her stellar play last weekend, allowing just five goals over six periods of action and anchoring the Cardinal defense holding USC, the MPSF's top defense, to a season-low four goals last Saturday.

California (16-5, 2-3 MPSF), which will be seeded fifth at the MPSF Championship, is on a four-game winning streak. The Golden Bears are led offensively by Emily Csikos (47 goals) while in the cage Savanna Smith posts a goals-against average of 6.74.

Stanford returns to Berkeley next weekend for the MPSF tournament, set to begin April 26. The Cardinal, as the top seed, earned a bye into next Saturday's semifinal round at 2:30 p.m. where it will face either No. 5 California or the to-be-determined No. 4 seed.

Women's tennis

No. 12 Stanford (16-3, 8-1 Pac-12) is streaking down the stretch, entering Friday's matinee against No. 9 California (14-5, 8-1 Pac-12) in Berkeley having won five in a row.

The Cardinal hopes to climb back into the national top 10 for the first time since early February., though understanding ITA national rankings can be quite a challenge.

Friday's winner will finish no worse than second in the Pac-12, and could possibly tie for the conference title depending on what happens between UCLA and USC, both ranked in the top seven. The Women of Troy are unbeaten in Pac-12 competition while the Bruins have lost only to Cal and Stanford.

Stanford has beaten Cal in their seven previous meetings, including once in a nonconference match earlier this year.

The stakes will of course be higher on Friday, with California hosting its Senior Day and also eyeing a share of the conference title.

Additionally, the contest will be televised live on the Pac-12 Networks. The doubles competition begins at 12:30 p.m., with the telecast joined in progress at 2 p.m. and showcasing the singles matches on courts Nos. 1-3.

Stanford is once again well represented in the latest edition of the national rankings, with five singles players (No. 17 Krista Hardebeck, No. 20 Nicole Gibbs, No. 34 Kristie Ahn, No. 76 Ellen Tsay, No. 94 Stacey Tan) and two doubles teams (No. 7 Ahn-Gibbs, No. 47 Tan-Tsay).

Men's tennis

Stanford (11-9, 3-3 Pac-12) continues its late-season run, having won three in a row heading into Saturday's 1 p.m. contest against No. 18 California (12-8, 4-1 Pac-12) at Taube Family Tennis Stadium.

The postseason push shouldn't come as a surprise. Head coach John Whitlinger's troops have made an annual habit of finishing strong, most recently winning six of eight regular-season matches last year.

What makes this year even more impressive is the fact Stanford is doing it with a relatively inexperienced lineup that regularly features five underclassmen in the singles lineup. Even Stanford's recent losses have been extremely competitive, notably hard-fought 4-3 defeats to No. 44 Oregon and No. 7 Pepperdine. Additionally, the Cardinal performed much better the second time around against USC and UCLA, two programs ranked among the nation's top five.

Stanford is chasing an at-large NCAA Tournament berth and the race will be close. The Cardinal would feel a little safer with a top-40 ranking, overall winning record and conference record of .500 or better. All of those benchmarks are still in play, and California would represent Stanford's highest-ranked victim of the year if the Cardinal can pull out a win.

Saturday's match will also serve as Senior Day for Sam Ecker, Matt Kandath, Denis Lin and Walker Kehrer. The foursome has led Stanford to a 72-30 record and back-to-back NCAA Tournament quarterfinal finishes among three postseason appearances overall.

Women's gymnastics

Stanford competes at the NCAA Championships for the sixth time in seven years, and 13th time overall, as it heads to UCLA for Friday's semifinal.

Stanford is ranked ninth in the 12-team field and will compete in the first of two six-team groups at noon in Pauley Pavilion.

The top three teams from each semifinal advance to the Super Six team finals on Saturday at 4 p.m. The top four individual finishers (including ties) will qualify for the individual event finals on Sunday at 1 p.m.

Stanford is seeking its seventh Super Six berth, all since 2002.

Cardinal coach Kristen Smyth and her coaching staff continue to implement a game plan that focuses training through the Pac-12 Championships and maximizing its score at the NCAA Championships. Last year, the team was seeded 10th and finished fourth with its highest score ever in NCAA competition.

Ashley Morgan has had an outstanding senior season, adding to an already stellar career. Morgan claimed her third consecutive Pac-12 floor title and earned her first regional title two weeks later at the Norman (Okla.) Regional on floor.

Morgan has competed in 43 of 44 possible events in 11 meets this season. She is the daughter of Baseball Hall of Famer Joe Morgan, and has a twin sister, Kelly, who played soccer at USC.

Men's gymnastics

Stanford received the No. 4 seed for the NCAA Championships hosted by Penn State beginning Friday.

This is Stanford's 15th consecutive appearance and 30th overall at the NCAA Championships, as it pursues its sixth national title.

Stanford will compete in the second semifinal round at 4 p.m. (PT) and will be joined by top-seeded Penn State, No. 5 Ohio State, No. 8 Iowa, No. 9 California and No. 12 Temple.

The first semifinal will take place at 1 p.m. on April 19, and consists of No. 2 Oklahoma, No. 3 Michigan, No. 6 Minnesota, No. 7 Illinois, No. 10 Nebraska and No. 12 Temple.

The top three teams from each semifinal advance to the final round on Saturday at 4 p.m. (PT). The gymnasts with the top 10 scores in each event during the semifinal round will qualify to the individual event finals on Sunday at 11 a.m.

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