By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
Every so often at Stanford there's a unique opportunity to watch two of the nation's top-ranked programs on the same day. This weekend, it's scheduled to happen on two consecutive days, when both the top-ranked women's swimming team and No. 1 women's tennis team are in action within shouting distance of each other.
The top-ranked Stanford women's swimming team hosts its final two home dual meets of the season this weekend and that can only mean one thing -- the championship season is just around the corner.
The top-ranked Stanford women's tennis team, meanwhile, is just beginning its journey toward defending its national title.
The Cardinal women swimmers face a tough challenge with No. 21 UCLA and No. 3 USC coming to Avery Aquatics Center. The Bruins (9-1) are first on tap at 1 p.m. Friday, while the Women of Troy arrive for a meet Saturday, also at 1 p.m.
Stanford finished second in the nation to Florida last year, with the title decided in the final event of the championships.
While Stanford lost two Olympians in Julia Smit and Elaine Breeden to graduation, a strong group of freshmen arrived as reinforcements, joining an already celebrated group of swimmers.
Saturday features the final home matches for seniors Meg Hostage, Kate Dwelley, Liz Smith, Kerry Kraemer and Kelsey Ditto. The senior class (Ditto transferred from Georgia two years ago) is a combined 33-1 with the only loss to Arizona in 2008.
Hostage is coming off one of her best performances of the year, as she placed first in both the 1-meter and 3-meter diving events in Stanford's 174-120 victory at Arizona State last Saturday.
Dwelley ranks among the top 20 in several events this season, most notably fifth in the 100 free and sixth in the 50 free. She's also 19th in the 100 fly and 20th in the 500 free.
Smith is one of the Cardinal's top overall swimmers, ranking fifth in the 200 breast, fourth in the 200 IM and 11th in the 400 IM. Ditto ranks first in the 1,000 free. Kraemer adds depth in both the 100 breast and 200 breast.
Stanford has finished second or third six times since winning its last NCAA title in 1998. Last year's margin was 2 1/2 points. Every point counts; even a 16th place finish makes a difference.
Thanks to a freshmen class that includes Maya DiRado, Felicia Lee, Andrea Taylor and Kristie Chen, Stanford remains a strong contender in every event.
DiRado currently ranks third in the country in the 200 back and 200 IM and second in the 400 IM. Lee is ninth in the 100 fly, 13th in the 200 IM, 15th in the 100 free and 19th in the 50 free.
Taylor has the nation's third-best time in the 1,000 free, the fifth best in the 400 IM, the seventh best in the 500 free and the 11th best in the 200 fly. Chen ranks 14th in the 400 IM.
Juniors Betsy Webb, Sam Woodward, Angela Duckworth and Jamie Bruce add balance and depth across the board.
Webb has the country's third-best time in the 100 back, the fifth best in the 50 free and is 10th in the 100 free. Woodward is 11th in the 50 free, 13th in the 100 free and 13th in the 100 fly.
Duckworth, who competed at the 2008 Olympic Trials, is one of Stanford's top distance swimmers while Bruce adds quality and depth to both the breast and IM events.
Sophomore Andi Murez has the 12th-best time in the 100 free, while Megan Fischer-Cobrie, Alisha Finn and Natalie Durant are solid performers.
Stanford ends the dual-met season at No. 4 California on Feb. 12 before heading to the Pac-10 Championships, which start Feb. 23. The NCAA championships begin on March 17 in Austin, Texas.
Top-ranked Stanford, playing without Mallory Burdette, picked up right where it left off Wednesday, beating visiting UC Davis, 7-0, in the season opener.
Stanford extended its home winning streak to 165 matches (133 regular season, 32 NCAA tournament), a streak that spans nearly 12 seasons and is the longest active home winning streak among all sports in Division I athletics.
The current winning streak began March 5, 1999 with a 7-2 victory over No. 24 Arizona.
Stanford hosts Cal Poly in the ITA Kickoff Weekend at 10 a.m. Friday. The winner meets Oklahoma or UNLV at 2 p.m. Saturday.
The weekend survivor moves on to the National Team Indoor Championships for the final rounds in Charlottesville, Va., beginning Feb. 17.