By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
The Stanford men's water polo team has been ranked No. 1 in the nation for only a short time, and that lofty status will be at risk this weekend in a showdown between two of the nation's top teams.
It will be No. 1 Stanford against No. 3 UCLA on Saturday in a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation matchup in Avery Aquatic Center at noon. It will be the first meeting of the teams this season.
The Cardinal brings a six-match winning streak and a 9-2 overall mark (2-0 in the MPSF) to the showdown, which will close out Stanford's recent three-game homestand as well as the first half of its home schedule.
Stanford successfully defended its No. 1 ranking last week with Friday night's 9-5 win over No. 7 Pepperdine followed by a dramatic, come-from-behind 6-5 win over No. 5 UC Santa Barbara on Sunday afternoon.
Jacob Smith, who scored three goals over the weekend, made the key plays Sunday with a late steal and ejection drawn which led up to him scoring the game-winner in the final 30 seconds.
Freshman Alex Bowen also scored three times to raise his team-leading tally to 22 goals, while Forrest Watkins netted twice to bring his total to 16, tied with Smith for second on the team. Ryan Kent recorded a hat trick in Saturday's win over Pepperdine.
Goalie Brian Pingree marshaled the Cardinal defense to another fine weekend, lowering his goals-against average to 6.40. Behind Pingree's direction, the defense has held three of its past four opponents, all ranked in the top seven, to five goals or less.
UCLA (11-3, 1-1 MPSF) enters Saturday's contest having split its past four games after a 9-1 start, although both losses came against California in a span of six days. The second of those losses to the Golden Bears came in UCLA's conference opener on Oct. 7 in Los Angeles, although the Bruins bounced back to even their conference record at 1-1 with an 18-6 rout of UC Irvine Sunday.
The Bruins feature a pair of 20-goal scorers in Josh Samuels (22) and Brett Hays (21), while Paul Reynolds currently sits on 19 goals. In the cage, Matt Rapacz has seen the bulk of the action for UCLA, making 75 saves and posting a goals-against average of 7.11.
UCLA captured both meetings between these two schools last year, each by one goal, snapping Stanford's seven-game winning streak in the series that dated to a 7-6 win at Avery Aquatic Center on Sept. 29, 2007.
The Stanford men and women are set for their biggest weekend of the regular season, thus far, as both will send squads to the Wisconsin adidas Invitational on Friday and the Bronco Invitational, hosted by Santa Clara, on Saturday.
The adidas Wisconsin Invitational is expected to be the most competitive regular season meet of the year. Many of the top teams will be competing in Wisconsin this year, instead of Pre-Nationals, which is Sunday in Terre Haute.
The women will be up first, running the 6K course. The Cardinal will be one of 19 ranked teams in the field, including one of seven ranked in the top 10. Top-ranked and defending national champion Villanova will lead the way, but No. 2 Providence, No. 6 Stanford, No. 7 New Mexico, No. 8 Syracuse, No. 9 Iowa State and No. 10 California will all be in the mix.
Stanford's top individual hope is 2010 Pac-10 runner-up Kathy Kroeger, but she will face the 2010 Pac-10 Champion Jordan Hasay. The race favorite is probably the defending individual national champion, Sheila Reid of Villanova.
On the men's side, Stanford is one of 20 ranked teams that will compete in the men's 8K. The host Badgers enter the meet with the top ranking in the field at No. 2, but the No. 4 Cardinal is not far behind.
"It's going to be a really competitive meet," said associate cross country coach Jason Dunn. "We would certainly like to be in a position to win, but it's still early and we are still getting better."
Individually, Stanford's Chris Derrick and Jacob Riley should contend for the title, but will receive plenty of steep competition. Lawi Lelang of Arizona, Miles Batty of BYU, Diego Estrada of Northern Arizona and others will challenge the Cardinal duo.
Back in California, Stanford also will send teams to the Bronco Invitational. The annual meet hosted by Santa Clara is run at Baylands Park in Sunnyvale. The women's invitational will be at 9:45 a.m., while the men go off at 10:30 a.m.
Stanford will host the Stanford Intercollegiate beginning Friday. The 54-hole event will be held at the par-71 Stanford Golf Course.
The 16-team field includes No. 1 (Golfweek) UCLA, No. 6 Arizona State, No. 7 Southern California, No. 8 Oklahoma State, No. 9 Vanderbilt, No. 10 Texas, No. 14 Virginia, No. 23 UC Davis, No. 27 San Diego State, No. 30 Oregon, No. 32 Washington, No. 36 Denver, No. 45 Kent State, Oregon State and San Jose State.
The Cardinal is coming off a second place finish at the Cougar Cup in Pullman, Wash. Junior Sally Watson captured the individual title, rebounding from an opening-round 79 to card rounds of 71 and 70. She birdied four of the last 12 holes, sinking a 40-foot putt on her final hole to clinch the victory.
Watson tops a lineup that includes junior Kristina Wong, sophomores Danielle Frasier and Marissa Mar, and freshman Mariko Tumangan. Mar and Tumangan tied for eighth at the Cougar Cup and Wong and Frasier tied for fourteenth.
Senior Lila Barton will compete as an individual.
Stanford will host to four teams on Friday and Saturday with the women's team co-hosting the two-day George Haines Invitational with San Jose State, Nevada, Hawaii and Stanford on Friday and Saturday and the men (2-0) hosting a dual event with the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors on Friday at 3 p.m. Diving will also take place both days.
On the men's side, Hawaii and Stanford will dive at 1 p.m. and swim in the short-course pool at 3 p.m.
The women's event, co-hosted with the Spartans, will take place on Friday at noon with five long-course events. The meet continues at 6 p.m. back in the normal competition short course pool with 12 events and then again with the final seven events in the long-course pool on Saturday at 10 a.m. Diving also will take place with the women's three-meter on Friday at 11 a.m. and the women's one-meter on Saturday at 10 a.m.
The Stanford swimming and diving program also will be represented at the two-week Pan American Games in Mexico starting on Saturday. Graduates Julia Smit, Elaine Breeden and Eugene Godsoe will swim for the USA this weekend while graduate Cassidy Krug and freshman Kristian Ipsen will compete in diving starting Oct. 26.
Seventh-ranked Stanford (12-3, 6-3 Pac-12) will play host to Washington State (11-7, 3-5) on Friday and No. 2 Washington (15-1, 7-1) on Saturday, both at 7 p.m.
The Cardinal-Huskies matchup on Saturday pits two of the top blocking teams in the nation.
Stanford head coach John Dunning will be holding a pregame Chalk Talk prior to Saturday's match against Washington. It will be held in Kissick Auditorium on the first floor of the Arrillaga Family Sports Center at 5:30 p.m. Stanford students who attend Saturday's match will receive their Big Game point.
The team's win at Oregon State last weekend gave head coach John Dunning his 300th career victory at Stanford. He is now 301-52 all-time on The Farm.
The Cardinal has turned up the defensive intensity this season and leads the nation with 3.34 blocks per set and the Pac-12 with 17.57 digs per set. Stanford posted 21 blocks against Notre Dame and Arizona, and 104 digs against Duke, both are the most by a conference team this season.
Sophomore middle blocker Carly Wopat leads the Pac-12 with 1.62 blocks per set, which ranks fourth nationally. Wopat has posted a team-high nine blocks three times this season (vs. Delaware, vs. Notre Dame and vs. Arizona
Sophomore Rachel Williams surpassed her previous career high for kills in each of the team's first four matches of the season. The outside hitter is third in the conference with 4.55 kills per set and fourth with 5.16 points per set. She, along with teammate Karissa Cook, leads the Pac-12 with 10 double-doubles so far this year.
Stanford Sports Information contributed