Stanford banks on Steffens and senior leadership
heading into the NCAA water polo tournament
Stanford fifth-year senior defender Jessica Steffens influences the way a water polo game is played by her mere presence in the pool. She doesn't even have to score a goal to do it either.
Steffens, who took a year off in 2007 to train with the U.S. National Team in preparation for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, has been praised as one of the top 2-meter defenders in the country, regardless of age level.
Steffens, one of four seniors on the Cardinal roster, hopes to help bring home Stanford's first NCAA title since 2002. The curtain rises on the final act of the season Friday when the third-ranked and top-seeded Cardinal (24-2) meets No. 8 seed Pomona Pitzer (18-14) in the first round of the championships at 4 p.m. at San Diego State's Aztec Aquaplex.
Should Stanford advance, the semifinal opponent will be either California or Michigan. UCLA and USC are expected to meet in the other championship final.
The Sagehens enter the contest on a five-game winning streak after beating Occidental, 12-11 in SCIAC Tournament championship contest. They are 0-1 against the field, having lost at Loyola Marymount, 14-4, about a month ago.
Stanford, meanwhile, is 8-2 against the field with two wins over USC and UCLA, three over California and one over Michigan. The Cardinal has lost once each to USC and UCLA.
Stanford has won both previous meetings with Pomona Pitzer, most recently on March 9, 2008. The Sagehens, which earned their second trip to the postseason in three years, are led by SCIAC Athlete of the Year Tamara Perea.
Steffens was the only American named to the all-Olympic team in 2008. She was recently Stanford's lone representative on the all-Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament team.
Along with fellow seniors Kelly Eaton, a graduate of Menlo-Atherton, Alex Koran and Kelsey Holshouser, Steffens has been invaluable in limiting opposing teams to an average of five goals a game.
While the seniors may be more experienced, Eaton said there's no such thing as a single team leader this season.
"Everyone, this year, has a role," she said. "The freshmen and sophomores help lead this team, too. We wouldn't be as good as we are without them."
Menlo School grad Kim Krueger and Sacred Heart Prep grads Pallavi Menon and Vee Dunlevie are among the contributors. Sophomore Melissa Seidemann remains the team leader with 48 goals and junior Amber Oland is one of the top goalies on the west coast.
Three of the top four goal scorers are either freshmen or sophomores, with Annika Dries and Menon each following13 goals behind Eaton's 45. All four seniors have scored at least 10 goals and Stanford has 302 total goals to its opposition's 130.
Stanford opened its final Pac-10 series of the season Thursday night against visiting Oregon. The series continues Friday at 6 p.m. and concludes with a noon game Saturday.
Despite its recent struggles, the No. 15 Cardinal (5-13, 33-17) figures to be one of seven conference teams to advance to the NCAA tournament. The Pac-10 is considered the strongest overall conference in the nation.
Stanford, the top defensive team in the Pac-10, has appeared in the past 12 consecutive NCAA tournaments. The Selection Show is slated for Sunday at 7 p.m. on ESPNU.
Stanford senior outfielder Alissa Haber and freshman pitcher Teagan Gerhart were among the 25 players named to the USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year watch list. Gerhart has been dealing with soreness in her right arm for about a month and has made limited appearances.
Gerhart, despite a lack of recent mound duty, is fourth in the conference with 190 innings pitched. She's 22-6 with a 1.65 ERA. The 22 victories are tied for third in the Pac-10 and are 30th nationally. Gerhart, who has thrown 11 complete games, has 173 strikeouts, fifth in the Pac-10.
Haber, a three-time All-American, is on the heels of two-time Olympian Jessica Mendoza in the Cardinal record books. Haber is hitting .437 with 66 hits on 151 at-bats so far this year and carries a career average of just over .400 entering play this weekend. She has recorded 44 runs, 13 doubles, two triples, five home runs and 29 RBI.
Rosey Neill, the two-time Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year, has continued her incredible performance. Her .992 career fielding percentage ranks second in Cardinal history as does her 1,662 putouts. On the season, she is hitting .282, with 37 hits, including 10 doubles and three home runs, 25 RBI and a .427 slugging percentage. She also leads the team with 28 walks.
Junior pitcher Ashley Chinn owns a 32-11 career record, with 32 complete games, 10 of which were shutouts. She has 93 strikeouts in 92 innings.
Sophomore outfielder Sarah Hassman has 40 career stolen bases, fourth all-time in program history. Mendoza leads the list with 86 career stolen bases while Haber is second with 53.
Oregon (8-10, 33-16) entered play with a .306 team batting average, with freshmen Sam Pappas leading the way at .407 and Allie Burger at .400.
Stanford is 28-20 all-time versus Oregon. Last season, the Cardinal swept the three-game series with the Ducks. Under head coach John Rittman, Stanford is 13-8 against the Ducks at home.
Until this season, junior outfielder Dave Giuliani was best known for scoring the winning run in a game against Vanderbilt last season. He also scored a game-tying run.
Giuliani continued his recent success with four hits as the Stanford baseball team beat host San Jose State, 8-3, in a nonconference game Wednesday night.
The Cardinal (10-8, 26-18) opens a three-game Pac-10 series at home against Washington State with a 6 p.m. start Friday on Fireworks Night.
Zach Jones drove in three runs for Stanford, which has won five of its last six games. Menlo School grad Kenny Diekroeger singled in the ninth to extend his hitting streak to 18 games. Dean McArdle (4-0) earned the win with 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief.
Giuliani started his 11th game of the season, one more than he had appeared in through his first two seasons combined. He was hitless in three career at bats before breaking loose this year.
The New Jersey native has 10 hits in his last 21 at bats, including the first two home runs of his career. He's hitting .309 on the year in 38 games.
Stanford has nine conference games remaining and 11 overall. With an RPI rating of 39 before Wednesday's win, the Cardinal has helped itself into contention for a spot in the NCAA tournament after missing out last year.
Washington State (9-9, 26-17) also remains in good shape. Only USC has a losing record among Pac-10 teams, so conference victories become more important at thus stage of the season, when the selection committee takes note of who finishes strong.
The Cardinal is tied with UCLA for second place in the conference, four games back of Arizona State.
Stanford has Pac-10 series at Arizona and against Arizona State to finish the regular season.