Cardinal women denied a second water polo tourney title


This has happened before -- UCLA handing Stanford's women's water polo team a rare loss during the regular season. The setback can act as a catalyst or as a portent of things to come.

The second-ranked Bruins knocked the top-ranked and defending national champion Cardinal women's water polo team from the ranks of the unbeaten Sunday with a 7-6 victory, in double overtime, in the championship final of the UC Irvine Invitational.

UCLA also knocked off Stanford in the same tournament last year, which was also the last time Stanford lost, period. That defeat worked to motivate the Cardinal the rest of the season.

Stanford reached the final with a 7-6 win over No. 4 California earlier in the day.

The Bruins, who have not won a national title since winning its fifth straight in 2009, ended a four-game losing streak to Stanford, which has not won the UC Irvine tournament since 2011.

What we've learned following two in-season tournaments is that Stanford and UCLA seem to be the frontrunners in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, but that both USC and California are also ready, and eager, to crash the party.

In the 14-year history of the NCAA tournament, only Stanford, the Trojans and the Bruins have won titles, with the Bruins winning seven overall, all under the guidance of current United States national team coach Adam Krikorian.

John Tanner has won four titles at Stanford and Jovan Vavic owns the other three titles at USC.

Except for California and Loyola Marymount, each with one appearance in the NCAA championship game, it has been the top three beating each other.

There are several more key match-ups on the horizon that could change things dramatically. Several other top 10 programs are capable of an upset.

The loss snapped Stanford's 27-game overall winning streak and is the second time in the past month that the Bruins and Cardinal have met for an in-season tournament championship. Stanford won its own invitational, 10-6, over UCLA on Feb. 1.

The Cardinal (11-1) returns to action with its first televised game of the season on Thursday at 3:30 p.m. against Santa Clara at Avery Aquatic Center. Immediately following that contest on Pac-12 Networks, Stanford will take on Sonoma State at 5:15 p.m.

The Bruins earned the win after a late skip from downtown in the first overtime and a one-timer at 1:42 in the second overtime.

Kiley Neushul and Maggie Steffens scored twice each for Stanford. Following a Jamie Neushul skip score that brought Stanford even, 1-1, at 2:38 in the first, the other Neushul and Steffens alternated goals throughout the remainder of regulation before the teams entered overtime deadlocked 5-5.

Jordan Raney slipped a shot between UCLA's Sami Hill and the near post for Stanford's only goal of the overtime periods. Gabby Stone made seven saves in the cage for the Cardinal.

Cal held a 4-2 halftime edge over Stanford. The Cardinal responded in a big way, exploding for five goals to take control.

Steffens scored the second of her three goals with 7:03 on the clock in the third when her skip shot evaded Cal's goalkeeper. Thirty seconds later a Cal foul turned it over and led to a score from Kiley Neushul, which tied it at 4.

Stanford took the lead at 4:33 when Cal lost an entry pass and Raney ended up on the other end and deposited her shot inside left post.

Cal tied it again at 2:57 before Kiley Neushul found Steffens on the doorstep for a goal (2:30) and Jamie Neushul converted her second of the game a minute later.

— Palo Alto Online Sports/Stanford Athletics

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