First-year Stanford men's tennis coach Paul Goldstein never thought about the possibility of a conference title. In fact, he never thought about setting performance goals. All that changed Tuesday.
The Cardinal, which found itself ranked among the top 25 for the first time in more than two years, upped its longest winning streak in four years to 10 matches with a 4-2 victory over visiting USF in nonconference action.
Stanford (6-0 Pac-12, 16-4 overall) can allow itself to look ahead to Saturday, when California visits for a 2 p.m. contest with the outright conference title at stake.
"Guys understand what's going on, Goldstein said. "They understand they have an opportunity to win the Pac-12 title outright for the first time in 12 years. I won't have to say anything. It's Cal. It's senior day and it's going to be emotional."
Seniors John Morrissey and Robert Stineman were still in high school the last time the Cardinal shared a conference title, in 2010. They were just beginning their junior tennis careers when Stanford last won the Pac-12 crown outright, in 2003.
"I think we've been able to keep things in the back of our minds until now," Morrissey said. "It's always been about the next match up."
Morrissey was named the Pac-12 Player of the Week on Monday, an honor he earned after winning three matches last week, including the gut-wrenching, dramatic clinching point in Stanford's upset of No. 5 and defending national champion USC on Saturday.
"We had never beaten either UCLA or USC since I've been here," Morrissey said. "To beat them both in the same weekend made it special."
"I've always thought experience was overrated," said Goldstein, who played on four national championship teams at Stanford. "But I can point to several matches, including last weekend, where the experience of John and Robert was the reason we won. They set the tone every match in doubles. They are exceptional leaders. John's win Saturday was one for the ages."
The Cardinal beat the Bruins and Trojans in front of large crowds at Taube Family Tennis Center, which included former teammates of Goldstein.
"We've talked about how extraordinary this program is and about how special it is to be a part of the Stanford tennis family," Goldstein said. "It was on display last weekend and I'm glad they were able to be part of it. Last weekend was important for us as a program and we also know a lot of work to do and a lot of growth that needs to happen. It all starts with me. I need to learn how to be a better coach and about recruiting."
The winning streak continued against the Dons but it wasn't easy. There were several anxious moments when the outcome was in doubt.
"We weren't looking past these guys at all," Goldstein said. "I have a lot of respect for their team and the coaching staff. We talked about focusing on the Dons and bringing our own energy. Only now can we talk about preparing for Cal."
The Bears (4-2, 16-7) suffered their first conference losses over the weekend to UCLA and USC, which play each other in their regular-season finale.
The Cardinal beat Cal, 4-3, in late February in Berkeley. The match was considered nonconference.
"We had a good match with them earlier," Morrissey said. "We feel good about how we played. We still have to get prepared for this match because we realize that it was a close match."
Stanford and USF met for the first time in four years, with the Cardinal improving to 8-0 against the Dons.
Stanford played without freshman Tom Fawcett, who was held out of action for precautionary reasons.
After locking up the doubles point for a 1-0 lead, freshman David Hsu followed with a 6-0, 6-1 triumph on court six to make it 2-0. The Dons responded with a pair of singles wins to even the match at 2-2.
David Wilczynski's 6-4, 6-4 victory at the No. 2 spot put Stanford back in front 3-2 and Stineman provided the clincher with a 6-4, 6-4 win at the No. 3 position.
Stanford downed visiting Pacific, 3-2, in a nonconference match Tuesday, avenging an earlier loss to the Tigers.
Stanford's No. 1 team, Lauren Birks and Brittany Howard, clinched the win with a 26-24, 21-18 victory over Anne-Sophie Bauer and Lexi Elman. The pair improves to 11-6 on the season.
Also picking up wins for the Cardinal were Madi Bugg and Ivana Vanjak at No. 2 and Inky Ajanaku and Grace Kennedy at No. 5. Bugg and Vanjak topped Mia Feiner and Gillian Howard in straight sets, 21-15, 21-19 to move to 10-5. Ajanaku and Kennedy moved to 2-2 with a 19-21, 21-15, 16-14 win over Taylor Poncetta and Andie Shelton.
Stanford (8-4) hosts St. Mary's next Tuesday at 4:30 p.m.
Stanford suffered its third walk-off loss in the past 17 days, losing to host Santa Clara, 6-5, in 10 innings Tuesday in nonconference action.
Palo Alto grad T.J. Braff played a big role for the Broncos. He had two hits, drove in a run and scored a run. Braff is second on the team with 35 hits, three homers and 23 RBI.
Stanford stranded 14 baserunners, five in the last two innings.
The Cardinal rallied to tie the game with a three-run sixth. Drew Jackson tripled home a run, Jonny Locher singled in a run and Alex Dunlap scored on a wild pitch.
Beau Branton had two hits and drove in a pair of runs. Jackson, Mikey Diekroeger, Tommy Edman and Locher each had two hits.
The Cardinal (2-10, 14-20) hosts Utah at 6 p.m. Friday, the opener of a three-0gam Pac-12 series.