Stanford, UCLA to meet for NCAA water polo championship


Top-ranked Stanford has another date with UCLA and the NCAA championship is on the line.

The Cardinal women's water polo team beat California, 12-8, in the semifinal of the NCAA tournament at USC on Saturday and will meet the Bruins, who downed the Trojans, 5-3, in the other semifinal, in the title match.

The Bruins are the only team to beat Stanford this season.

It will be the Cardinal's fifth straight appearance in the title game and 10th overall.

"We've had a ton of great players year in and year out and the standard and expectations are always high," Stanford head coach John Tanner said. "You get people who are really hungry and have great coaching coming up and want to be a part of Nerd Nation, and that's what has put us in five straight championship games."

The Cardinal (24-1) claimed its 38th straight victory over California (20-9), a streak that dates to 2000.

Maggie Steffens paced the Cardinal with three goals, two coming on penalty shots, while Kaley Dodson and Annika Dries each scored twice in the run of play. Goalie Gabby Stone made eight saves as part of the Cardinal's defensive effort.

After falling behind by a pair of goals early, Stanford tightened up the defense while the offense came alive over an 8-2 run that spanned 13:05. California's Roser Tarrago netted the first two goals for the Golden Bears, the second coming with 4:09 left in the opening period to put Stanford in a two-goal hole.

The Cardinal defense made a crucial kill of a California power play less than a minute later, and a minute after that Stanford converted a 6-on-5 of its own as Dries punched in the rebound of a Kiley Neushul shot with 2:13 left in the frame. Stanford pulled even with 51 seconds to go as Gurpreet Sohi made a nice move past her defender on the right flank, turning the corner and pump-faking to get California goalie Madeline Trabucco out of position before firing home.

"Games are won over the course of 32 minutes and beyond, but that 5-on-6 stop was a huge deal," Tanner said in regards to the Cardinal's penalty kill while down 2-0.

After Dora Antal put California back in front with 24 seconds to go in the period, Stanford took its first lead of the game with two goals in a span of 32 seconds thanks to Kiley Neushul's penalty shot just 19 seconds into the second period followed by Ashley Grossman's fast-break goal.

Grossman caused problems inside for the California defense all game, as in addition to her goal the Santa Monica native drew two five-meter penalties for the Cardinal.

The second of those penalties was converted by Steffens with 1:20 to go in the second period, giving the Cardinal a two-goal lead at 6-4 after the Golden Bears had knotted things up at 4-4.

With 17 seconds to go before the break, Kelsey Suggs balanced her strong two-meter defense with a frozen rope from the left wing that beat Trabucco and gave the Cardinal a 7-4 halftime lead.

Things firmly turned Stanford's way in the first minute of the second half, as the Cardinal was gifted a penalty shot thanks to a brief lapse in concentration by the California defense.

California's Tiera Schroeder was called for an exclusion on a Stanford attack, but did not respond to the official's whistle and leave the playing area in sufficient time, resulting in the penalty call. Steffens stepped up and buried her second from five meters and the Cardinal lead was doubled to 8-4.

Despite Terrago's third goal 19 seconds later, the Cardinal extinguished any Golden Bear hope for a comeback as Anna Yelizarova skipped a shot into the cage from the near post 29 seconds after Terrago's goal, and Kaley Dodson fired home with 3:47 to go in the period to make it 10-5. The Stanford lead would eventually get up to 12-6 with three minutes remaining in the contest before California added a pair of late goals.

— Palo Alto Online Sports/Stanford Athletics


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