By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
Christen Press thinks UCLA hasn't seen the top-ranked Stanford women's soccer team at its best this season. She hopes that happens this weekend, when the two Pac-10 rivals meet in the third round of the NCAA tournament.
While there were several regular-season rematches during the first weekend of play, only Friday night's game at Stanford features a rematch, and the 7 p.m. kickoff should be a good one.
The Bruins lead the all-time series, 9-8-3, but Stanford has won the past three meetings, including last year's 2-1 overtime victory in the NCAA Women's College Cup semifinals.
The Cardinal (20-0-2) shut out UCLA, 2-0, on Oct. 10 on its way to a second straight Pac-10 title. The two schools have combined to win the past 10 conference championships.
"I don't think we played our best the last time," said Press, the nation's leading scorer who is still looking for her first postseason goal this year.
The Cardinal advanced to the Round of 16 for the fifth straight year, beating Bay Area rival Santa Clara, 2-1, on Sunday with Marjani Hing-Glover and Alina Garciamendez each scoring goals for the Cardinal.
UCLA (13-7-2) extended its consecutive streak of third-round appearances to 12 by upsetting No. 4 seed Central Florida, 2-1.
"It's a similar situation in that they know us well and we know them well," Press said. "They've been our Pac-10 rivals all four years I've been here. We know their players and their coach and vice versa."
Both squads have appeared in the NCAA Women's College Cup in each of the past two years, but only one of these national contenders will have a shot at the big prize this year. UCLA will put its streak of seven straight College Cup appearances on the line against the Cardinal.
"UCLA is always a big rival game," Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe said. "It should be an exciting match. They are a talented team."
The Bruins have had a crazy season so far. Ranked third in preseason national poll, UCLA began with a 7-0 rout of Cal Poly and later earned impressive victories over perennial powers Notre Dame and Santa Clara.
The Bruins also suffered a series of surprising losses and finished the regular season out of the NSCAA Top 25.
UCLA remains a dangerous team, coached by U.S. national youth coach Jillian Ellis. The Bruins feature junior forward Sydney Leroux, who has been a prolific scorer for the U.S. Under-20 national team, as well as senior midfielder Kylie Wright, and senior defender Lauren Barnes. All three have vast youth national-team experience and were All-Pac-10 first-team selections.
UCLA finished fourth in the Pac-10 but that doesn't mean much this week. The Bruins have consistently been one of the top teams in the country for a long time.
Sophomore Courtney Verloo is expected to return to the Cardinal lineup, adding some speed to the back line. That means junior Camille Levin will return to the forward line.
The former freshman All-American has been Stanford's most versatile player. She started at central defense in the first two postseason matches and has also played in the midfield.
"Camy has moved all over the field all year," Ratcliffe said. "Courtney was available to play last week but we were being safe and making sure she was fully healthy."
Stanford brings numerous streaks into Friday's match: consecutive matches unbeaten at home, 37; consecutive home victories, 33; consecutive matches unbeaten, 22; consecutive victories, 19; and consecutive NCAA Tournament victories at home, 10.
It's a big weekend, too, for second-ranked Stanford in Berkeley. Friday night's 7 p.m. showdown in Haas Pavilion will determine who assumes sole possession of the Pac-10 penthouse, and who will occupy a lower level.
The Cardinal (13-2, 22-2) share the same conference record as host fourth-ranked California (13-2, 23-2), but the Bears have the slight advantage after beating Stanford in Maples earlier in the season.
Stanford enters the contest after beating both Washington State and Washington on the road last weekend in four sets. Against the Cougars, senior libero Gabi Ailes became the first Stanford player and the seventh Pac-10 player to reach the 2,000 career digs plateau.
Ailes celebrated by recording a season-high 27 digs as part of Stanford's season-best team mark of 89 digs in the win over the Huskies.
The Cardinal is hitting at a .321 clip, leading the nation in hitting percentage. Stanford is ranked third with 14.26 assists per set, and fifth with 15.06 kills per set.
Senior outside hitter Alix Klineman is second among national leaders with 5.55 kills per set, second with 6.18 points and 30th with a .375 hitting percentage.
Stanford also has arguably the most versatile player in the nation on its roster in senior Cassidy Lichtman, who has recorded 35 double-doubles, or better, since the beginning of last season. She's among the Pac-10 leaders in assists and service aces.
Sophomore Hayley Spelman is seventh with a .334 hitting percentage in conference matches, junior Stephanie Browne is sixth with 1.15 blocks per set, and freshman Carly Wopat ranks ninth with 1.08 blocks per set.
Men's water polo
The Cardinal (5-2, 13-6) travels to top-ranked California (7-0, 20-2) for the Big Splash on Friday at 6 p.m. A win could secure the No. 2 seed while a loss would likely mean the fourth seed for Stanford.
California clinched the regular-season title and the top seed for the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament, which determines the automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. The MPSF is also awarded an at-large bid, though Stanford would have to reach the championship game and hope the Bears are there too just to have a chance.
Stanford dropped a 10-9 decision to visiting Pacific on Sunday, the Tigers' first conference win over Stanford in 10 years. The loss cost the Cardinal a chance to play for a co-championship and the No.1 seed in the tournament, which will be played at Stanford's Avery Aquatic Center.
Third-ranked Stanford embarks on its first road trip of the season this weekend, taking a two-state tour of Utah and Washington.
The Cardinal, which opened the season Sunday with a 63-50 victory over Rutgers, opens with a Friday night contest at Utah at 6 p.m. before heading off to Spokane to face Gonzaga on Sunday at 2 p.m.
All-American junior Nnemkadi Ogwumike scored a game-high 20 points on 8-for-12 shooting while also grabbing nine rebounds in the win over the Scarlet Knights.
Utah (1-0) opened the season with former Stanford player Michelle Harrison in the starting lineup and beat SMU, 44-43, on the road.
Stanford is unbeaten in 11 all-time meetings with Utah.