Stanford's Maggie Steffens and Kiley Neushul are familiar with several of the goalies that have helped their respective women's water polo teams reach the NCAA tournament this weekend, including Princeton's Ashleigh Johnson.
All three play together with the United States senior national team, but that didn't mean too much Friday with a possible national championship at stake.
"It's always fun to play against people you've had the opportunity to play with," Steffens said after the second-ranked Cardinal topped No. 9 Princeton, 7-2, in the quarterfinal round. "Once you're in the water, she has a white cap on and I have a red cap on. It's a competition. You have to love the challenge, you have to love the pressure."
Johnson recorded 18 saves but both Steffens and Neushul scored three times in leading the Cardinal (23-2) into the semifinal round against USC (23-5) at 5:15 p.m. at Avery Aquatic Center. Stanford is 2-0 against the Trojans this season but that goes by the wayside when the teams jump into the pool.
"We know what we are looking at over the course of these three days," Stanford coach John Tanner said. "Tomorrow is going to be awesome."
USC took care of Hawaii, 14-7, in a first round match. The Trojans are one of the most prolific offensive teams in the country and Stanford has one of the stingiest defenses.
"We needed to have a good defensive performance to start off the weekend," Tanner said. "It's something we need to carry through the weekend. I was pleased with that. On the offensive end, it's frustrating when you get a goalie who makes so many saves. She disrupted our offense. I'm pleased with our chances."
Johnson said she enjoyed facing her U.S. teammates, even though the Tigers (30-4) came out on the wrong end of the score.
"I was happy to have a challenge on defense," said Johnson, who is long and tall and seems to cover the net without difficulty. "I love their shots and I was excited to play against them."
Princeton junior Pippa Temple grew up playing with the Stanford water polo club. The Sacred Heart Prep grad said it felt like home.
"It was cool to look up and see a lot of familiar faces," Temple said. "It felt like a club game again except that we lost. J.T., Susan (Ortwein) and Kyle (Utsumi) were my coaches. It was weird seeing them coaching against me."
Stanford kept the Tigers out of the net over the first 22 minutes of play and was up, 6-0, when Princeton finally broke through against Gabby Stone, who needed to make eight saves.
"They are a great defensive team," Temple said. "They were all over us. We need to take this and learn from it."
Neushul increased her career goal total to 216, moving her past Olympian Ellen Estes, who also played on Stanford's first national championship team in 2002, for third all-time.
"College is a restart," Neushul said. "It's about what you can bring to the table in a given year. It did feel good to get on a roll. It was a good start."
Dani Jackovich also scored for the Cardinal, which is looking for it third national title in four years.