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It's No. 1 vs. No. 2 in women's water polo showdown

 

Of all the events taking place on the Stanford campus Saturday, the most meaningful contest, in terms of immediate impact on the national scene, will take place at high noon at Avery Aquatic Center.

That's where No. 2 Stanford hosts top-ranked UCLA in a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation match with more than national rankings at stake.

The Cardinal (3-0 MPSF, 18-1 overall) beat the Bruins (4-0, 20-1) for the national title last year and they have split their two meetings this season.

Saturday's winner will not only remain undefeated in conference play, but will grab the inside track in earning the top seed for the MPSF tournament. Moreover, the showdown could be a preview of next month's national championship match.

Stanford hosts Cal State Bakersfield on Sunday, also at noon. The match will also serve as Stanford's Senior Day, in which the Cardinal's three-person senior class of Menlo-Atherton grad Emily Dorst, Ashley Grossman and Kiley Neushul will be honored in a pregame ceremony. In their four years on The Farm, the trio has led Stanford to a 98-7 record and a pair of national championships.

Stanford then will travel to Berkeley for the regular-season finale on Thursday at 5 p.m. against No. 4 California, which hosts Arizona State this weekend.

UCLA finishes its regular season a week from Saturday, hosting No. 3 USC, which has lost twice all year -- to Stanford and the Bruins -- by a total of three goals. The Trojans beat the Bears by one.

"USC, UCLA and Cal have all been close games," Stanford coach John Tanner said. "That's great competition for all the teams."

It's the kind of competition all four teams need, especially at this time of the year, to remain sharp. All four likely will see each other one or two more times during the postseason.

The nation's top four teams also have deep benches, which already have played a role and will be key to the conference tournament, scheduled for Tempe (Ariz.) beginning April 25.

"You don't get a lot of hard pressure very time out and that's a reminder to us to bring that energy very day in practice," Tanner said. "We have to rely on our entire roster to create that high level in practice."

The Cardinal has been held under 10 goals just twice this season, to Cal and UCLA (a 7-6 loss), while holding every opponent under 10 goals.

Saturday's showdown also is an Olympic fan's dream. Seven players currently on the roster of the U.S. National Team, coached by former Bruins coach Adam Krikorian, will be participating in the contest.

Olympic gold medalist and two-time FINA Female Athlete of the Year Maggie Steffens leads the Stanford contingent and is joined by Kiley Neushul, Grossman and goalie Gabby Stone.

Sami Hill, Rachel Fattal and Alys Williams are UCLA representatives on the national team.

A total of 11 of Team USA's 18-player roster have Stanford (Annika Dries, Melissa Seidemann) or UCLA (SH Prep grad KK Clark, Courtney Mathewson) ties.

The Bruins have nine players who have scored at least 10 goals, led by Fattal's 37. Williams and Emily Donohue each have 29 goals.

Kiley Neushul leads Stanford with 44 goals, and is one of 10 Cardinal players with at least 10 goals. Grossman has 43, Steffens has 35, while Dani Jackovich (25), Gurpeet Sohi (24) and Jamie Neushul (24) follow.

Katie Dudley leads the freshmen group with 18 goals, tied with junior Anna Yelizarova. Jordan Raney, the reigning MPSF Newcomer of the Week, has 16 goals. Rachel Johnson completes the double-digit list with 11.

Five different players recorded a hat trick in Stanford's 23-6 win over No. 9 San Jose State last weekend.

Since ending a five-game losing streak to the Bruins in 2009, Stanford has won 17 of their past 23 meetings.

The rest of Cardinalpalooza, centered around the spring football game at 1 p.m., also features at least one ranked team in every competition.

The Big Meet, one of the few track and field dual meets still held, features the 11th-ranked Cardinal women and 17th-ranked Stanford men.

Any competition between Cal and Stanford creates interest, but a rare dual meet adds extra excitement. Action begins at 2 p.m., with the women's hammer, while running events start at 3 p.m.

In sand volleyball, No. 8 UCLA is one of seven teams playing in the Stanford Invitational. The Bruins and Cardinal meet at 9 a.m. at the newly created Stanford Sand Volleyball Stadium.

California, Cal Poly, Oregon, St. Mary's and Washington are also playing.

In tennis, the 13th-ranked Stanford women's tennis team hosts Washington State at 10 a.m. and the men's team hosts No. 5 USC at 2 p.m.

In softball, the Cardinal hosts No. 8 UCLA in the day's final event at 7 p.m. Stanford (1-8 and 16-22) has been plagued by injuries once again with starting pitchers Mady Schreyer and Haley Snyder both sidelined and listed day to day.

Nine other Stanford teams are on the road this weekend, including the No. 15 men's volleyball team, which plays at No. 1 Hawaii, the third-ranked men's gymnastics team at the NCAA championships, the 15th-ranked lacrosse team at St. Mary's and the fifth-ranked women's crew team.

The 12th-ranked men's golf team and the sixth-ranked women's golf team are entered in tournaments while the third-ranked sailing team and the 14th-ranked men's crew team are hosting events in Redwood Shores.

The Stanford baseball team is at Cal for a three-game series this weekend.

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