Former teammates hoping to meet in NCAA finals
Pallavi Menon and KK Clark won a pair of Central Coast Section women's water polo titles while playing together at Sacred Heart Prep. They've also each won an NCAA championship, playing against each other.
The two former Gators will likely meet as competitors one more time this weekend before they resume their life-long friendship.
Menon hopes she'll be part of a repeat with Stanford. Clark would love to help UCLA win its first national title since 2009.
Top-seeded Stanford (23-2) takes on Pomona-Pitzer (21-16) at San Diego State's Aquaplex in the first round of the NCAA tournament at 3:30 p.m. Friday.
No. 2 UCLA (21-3) takes on Iona (24-11) at noon. The only way the Bruins and Cardinal will meet is if both reach the championship match, scheduled for Sunday at 5:15 p.m.
Menon and Clark, meanwhile, have been both rivals and friends for most of their water polo lives. Teammates at Sacred Heart Prep, they also played for different club teams; Menon at Stanford and Clark for NorCal -- along with her cousins Lindsay (SHP grad), Becca and Emily Dorst (M-A grads).
The lone exception to their college rivalry came over the summer when Menon and Clark played together on the United States National Team that competed in China.
"We had a great time," Menon said.
Clark agreed, saying "It was fun to play with her again."
Menon will have come full circle with Stanford. Her first coach was Kyle Utsumi on the Stanford Water Polo Club. Utsumi is currently an assistant for the Cardinal.
Clark was a freshman when the Bruins won the national title under Adam Krikorian, who currently heads the U.S. National Team. She currently plays for Brandon Brooks, who was named Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Coach of the Year this year.
"Everybody tells you when you are a freshman that this is the fastest four years of your life," Menon said. "Right now I'm trying not to think about anything as being the last time. I want to enjoy the moment and enjoy every day I can at Stanford."
Menon always wanted to attend Stanford. Clark always knew she would leave the area for college.
"We keep it appropriate," Clark said. "We have to stay loyal to our schools, so we don't talk much during the season. It's understood in the pool that games can get rough but we respect each other. It's always fun to play against her. I'm a big admirer of the way she plays."
While Clark is a finalist for the Peter J. Cutino Award, presented to the best college water polo player, Menon has been a mainstay in the Stanford lineup all season.
"She has all the skills and the poise you want from an athlete," Cardinal coach John Tanner said. "She's steady in all positions and she's also brilliantly creative. She will create a chance when others can't."
Clark, an All-American, leads UCLA with 51 goals. Menon is among the scoring leaders for Stanford, and she adds even more to the lineup.
"She's reliable," Tanner said. "She's a fundamentally sound player. She also has the ability to electrify her team and the crowd. You don't want to turn your back to her."
Becca Dorst has also been a contributor for the Bruins this season. She's second to Clark with 26 goals and scored three in UCLA's MPSF championship tournament victory over the Cardinal.
Iona is led by sophomore Amy Olsen (83 goals) and senior Mackenize Mone (74).
The Sagehens have a few familiar local faces in sophomore Alex Lincoln and freshmen Sallie Walecka and Sarah Westcott.
Westcott, a Sacred Heart Prep grad, has 44 goals on the year, while Lincoln, from Gunn, has scored eight. A former Castilleja goalie, Walecka has 32 saves on the year.
The winner of Stanford and Pomona Pitzer faces the winner of a first-round match between UC Irvine (24-6) and Loyola Marymount (20-9) in Saturday's 3:30 p.m. semifinal.
The UCLA-Iona winner takes on either USC (21-5) or Princeton (28-4) in the scheduled 5:15 p.m. semifinal on Saturday.
The Women of Troy, seeded third, are a definite possibility to win the national title. They last won in 2010, when Woodside Priory grad Constance Hiller was a freshman. Hiller has seven goals on the season.
USC is led by sophomore Kaleigh Gilchrist with 43 goals. Freshman Monica Vavic, the daughter of coach Jovan Vavic, has 34 goals.
Princeton junior Laura Martinez, out of Castilleja, has seven goals on the year. The Tigers are led by sophomore Katie Rigler, who has 69 goals.
The Anteaters are led by junior Jessy Cardey, who was named Big West Conference Player of the Year for a second straight season. She has 66 goals so far.
Freshman Mary Jane O'Neill, out of Menlo-Atherton High, has scored six goals on just 16 shots for UC Irvine.
Senior goalkeeper Elise Ponce, a Menlo School product, and sophomore Alexandra Honny lead the Western Water Polo Association champions Loyola Marymount into the tournament. Ponce started all 29 games, allowing 6.72 goals per game and recording 287 saves. Honny leads the Lions with 77 goals and both were named first team all-WWPA.