By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
The stage is set for another wild weekend involving four teams that know each other well. The top-seeded Stanford women's water polo team hopes that leads to a national title.
Of the 10 previous NCAA championships, only three schools have won titles: Stanford (2002), UCLA (7 times) and USC (twice). Those happen to be three of the top four seeds in this year's national tournament, which begins Friday at the Canham Natatorium in Ann Arbor.
The top-ranked and top-seeded Cardinal (25-1) meets eighth-seeded Iona College (26-7) in Friday's quarterfinal contest at 3 p.m. (PT). Second-seeded California takes on UC San Diego, third-seeded UCLA plays Indiana and USC meets UC Irvine in other first round games.
The Gaels reached the Elite Eight for the first time in program history after beating Redlands in a play-in game last Saturday. Maggie Wood leads the team with 115 goals.
Should Stanford get by Iona, which has won 14 straight, the semifinals could feature defending NCAA champions USC, with the possibility of Cal and UCLA meeting in the other semifinal. In other words, an all-Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Final Four.
"Sometimes I just get annoyed with people's tendencies," Stanford senior goalkeeper Amber Oland said. "I just want to stop them. But we know each other so well; we kind of understand what we need to do. It usually comes down to who makes the fewest mistakes."
Stanford has played beaten Cal twice by the combined score of 18-10; has defeated USC three times, twice in overtime, by the aggregate score of 28-23; and split two meetings with UCLA, with the Cardinal owning a 13-11 goal advantage.
There's just not much separating the four teams.
"We feel like we want to win to prove what kind of team we have," Oland said. "We have been focused on getting back here all season."
The Cardinal has some added incentive in that UCLA handed Stanford its only loss this year, USC beat the Cardinal in last year's title match and Cal is, well, Cal.
Oland, Menlo School grad Kim Krueger and goalkeeper Kim Hall are playing in their final NCAA tournament. They would like nothing better than to bring home Stanford's first national championship since 2002 and earn the school's 101st NCAA title.
The tournament will feature 12 players from local schools. In addition to Krueger, Stanford had Sacred Heart Prep grads Pallavi Menon and Vee Dunlevie. UCLA has Megan Burmeister (Menlo), KK Clark (SHP) and Becca Dorst (M-A) while Cal had Lindsay Dorst (SHP) and Jen Talbot (St. Francis). USC has Priory grad Consi Hiller while Indiana features Liza Dernehl (Paly) plus Lauren and Cassie Wyckoff (Los Altos).
Track and field
The Stanford men's team enters this weekend's Pac-10 championships in Tucson ranked No. 12 in the nation, one of six ranked teams from the conference. No. 7 USC, No. 10 Arizona, No. 20 Oregon, No. 21 UCLA and No. 23 Washington are also among the country's elite.
Stanford is looking for its first Pac-10 title on the men's side since 2002.
The Cardinal will be led by its distance crew that includes defending Pac-10 5,000 and 10,000 champion Chris Derrick.
Elliott Heath is coming of a NCAA indoor title in the 3,000 and has been in fine form all year. He is currently ranked No. 1 in the nation in the 5,000 with a time of 13:26.14. Other notables are 5,000 and 10,000 All-American Jake Riley and All-America steeplechaser JT Sullivan.
Amaechi Morton, in the 400-meter hurdles, gives the Cardinal a shot of scoring big points. He was third at the NCAA meet last year, but will be looking for his first Pac-10 title. Other notables for Stanford are Jules Sharpe in the high jump and Geoffrey Tabor in the throws. Tabor is currently ranked No.1 in the Pac-10 in the discus with a throw of 188-9.
The Cardinal women dropped out of the rankings this week. They remain a threat for a high finish at the Pac-10 Championships that includes five ranked teams: No. 4 USC, No. 5 Oregon, No. 8 Arizona, No. 12 Arizona State and No. 23 Washington State.
Stanford hopes to record its first title since 2005.
The Cardinal women are led by a pair of standouts in the field events. Katerina Stefanidi looks to defend her Pac-10 title in the pole vault. The junior was the NCAA runnerup during the indoor season and already has a season best of 14-6.
Also performing well in the field is Whitney Liehr, who enters the meet as the No. 2 triple jumper in the conference and No. 6 in the nation with a mark of 43-8 1/2.
Stephanie Marcy, in the distances, and Kori Carter, in the hurdles, are capable of scoring major points. Marcy ranks fifth in the conference in both the 5,000 and 10,000, while Carter is third in the 100 hurdles and seventh in the 400 hurdles. Other notables are Shataya Hendricks and Carissa Levingston in the sprints and Justine Fedronic in the 800.
No. 25 Stanford (9-9, 27-16) hopes to continue its recent stretch of success when it visits Oregon for a three-game Pac-10 set this weekend.
The series opens Friday at 7 p.m. with right-hander Mark Appel expected to take the hill for the Cardinal against the Ducks' Tyler Anderson.
The Cardinal, on a six-game winning streak, are coming off a series sweep of Washington, its first sweep of the season, moving Stanford to .500 in conference at 9-9 with three weekends to go in the regular season.
Brian Ragira hit .571 for the week, earning Pac-10 Player of the Week honors. He added five more RBI on Monday and Tuesday, giving him a team-best 38.
Stanford beat Pacific, 11-5, on Monday and downed UC Davis, 11-4, on Tuesday.
Against the Aggies, Menlo School grads Danny Diekroeger and Kenny Diekroeger each drove in two runs.
Oregon State (14-4) has a one game lead over Arizona State (13-5) with UCLA another half-game back (14-7). Cal is 12-9 in the Pac-10, while both Arizona and Stanford are 9-9.
Nationally No. 11-ranked Stanford (9-9, 37-13) completes the regular season with two more games against top-ranked Arizona State (15-3, 48-5) Friday and Saturday. The two teams opened the Pac-10 series Thursday night.
Cardinal junior shortstop Ashley Hansen, who hit .600 (9-for-15) against Oregon last weekend, leads the nation in doubles per game, and ranks third in batting average (.497). Hansen is also among the top 50 in the country in on-base percentage (sixth), toughest to strike out (third) and slugging percentage (23rd).
Hansen became just the second player in Stanford softball history to make the list of 10 finalists for USA Softball's Collegiate Player of the Year award, now in its 10th year, on Wednesday. She joins Missy Penna, who was a finalist in 2009.
The final three players will be announced May 25, and the award issued at a banquet on May 31 in conjunction with the Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City.