You know expectations are sky high for the Stanford women's water polo team when a slow start in a NCAA national championship game is losing the opening sprint. That's from a description of the 2005 title match.
The expectations for the Cardinal remain as absurdly high entering this weekend's Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament, with the automatic berth into the NCAA tournament at stake.
Third-ranked and third-seeded Stanford (19-4) opens play at the conference tournament, hosted by Cal State Bakersfield, against San Jose State (17-13) on Friday at 12:45 p.m.
The Cardinal enter the competition on a two-game losing streak, a rare occurrence for a program that established its dominance in the sport from its first year of existence. Stanford is the only school to have participated in every NCAA tournament since its inception in 2001.
It's been 12 years between losing streaks for the Cardinal, with the last time happening in May of 2004 in a loss to USC for the MPSF championship, followed by a loss to Loyola Marymount in the NCAA tournament.
It's been eight years since Stanford has lost more than four games in a season and even more startling is the Cardinal's current .826 winning percentage is the program's lowest since finishing the 2005 season at a 'lowly' .758 (22-7).
Winning and water polo at Stanford go together like John Tanner and Susan Ortwein, the coaching tandem responsible for the success of the 19-year-old program.
The Cardinal has won as many NCAA titles (5) as it has MPSF titles, though the two tournaments don't always correlate. Stanford is the two-time defending national champion and yet did not win the MPSF tournament title last year.
The MPSF is comprised of the nation's top teams. MPSF teams have dominated NCAA play, with only LMU's runner-up finish in 2004 the exception in national title contests. That's a big reason why MPSF tourney champs aren't always the NCAA champs.
The undefeated and top-ranked Trojans are the prohibitive favorites to finish the year without a loss. USC handed Stanford its worst loss, 8-3, in the regular season and ended the Cardinal's 43-game regular-season winning streak. The Trojans earned a 7-6 win over the Cardinal at the UC Irvine Invitational.
Stanford also lost at UCLA, 9-8, in sudden death last weekend and that's who the Cardinal will likely meet in Saturday's semifinal.
Stanford and the Spartans are meeting for the fourth time this year. The Cardinal won the previous meetings by the combined score of 44-16.
Stanford is second in the MPSF in goals per game (12.22), trailing USC (12.57), but ahead of UCLA (12.08), and third in goals allowed per game (5.52) behind USC (4.33) and UCLA (5.28).
Individually, Jamie Neushul leads the Cardinal and is fourth in the conference in goals per game (1.87). Kat Klass is sixth (1.70) and tops among theconference's freshmen, Anna Yelizarova is 16th (1.47), Gurpreet Sohi is 19th (1.35) and Dani Jackovich is 22nd (1.17). Julia Hermann's 5.67 goals against average is tied for sixth in the conference and her 8.43 saves per game are sixth.
In a showdown of two of the top six women's rowing programs in the nation, No. 6 Stanford and top-ranked California will clash in the 83rd annual Big Row at Redwood Shores on Saturday at Redwood Shores, 3 Lagoon Drive, Redwood City.
Admission is free. Racing gets underway at 9 a.m.
Both Stanford and Cal will wear special uniforms in honor of former Cal coxswain Jill Costello, who lost her battle with lung cancer in 2010. Stanford will don tank tops with a pink ribbon and the Stanford "S" in light blue on the front and "Team Jill" written on the back.
In the men's competition, No. 15 Stanford will meet No. 2 California in the Big Row.
The Cardinal last competed at the Redwood Shores course two weeks ago with the varsity eight defeating Wisconsin, Santa Clara and Hobart.
Stanford faced California earlier this year at the San Diego Crew Classic on Mission Bay. The Cardinal took fourth place in the varsity eight, second varsity eight and third varsity eight. Cal captured the Grand Final in the second varsity eight and third varsity eight, and placed second in the varsity eight.
In last season's Big Row, California captured victories in the varsity eight, second varsity eight and third varsity eight.
Nationally No. 4-ranked Stanford will be playing for its third straight conference title when it travels to The Country Club in Salt Lake City for the Pac-12 Conference Championships beginning Friday.
The Cardinal looks to become the first school to win three consecutive Pac-12 crowns since Arizona State captured six in a row between 1995-2000.
The Cardinal sends Maverick McNealy, David Boote, Brandon Wu, Franklin Huang, Jeffrey Swegle and Viraat Badhwar into the competition.
Stanford is coming off a team victory at the Western Intercollegiate, its lone win of the season to date. The Cardinal has earned nine top-10 showings in 10 events.
Stanford is paced by the nation's top-ranked golfer (Golfstat and Golfweek individual ranking) in McNealy (69.04 stroke average, four medalist honors). He's won 10 times in his career and needs one more to tie the school record currently shared by Tiger Woods and Patrick Rodgers.
In 27 rounds, McNealy has posted a score in the 60s in 16 rounds. The average score for those 16 rounds was 66.6. Boote (71.07) has seven top 25 finishes this season.
Entering the Pac-12 tournament, McNealy's 69.04 season stroke average is the second best in NCAA history. Wake Forest's Bill Haas (currently a successful pro) set the benchmark (68.93) in 2003-04. At the conclusion of the 2014-15 season, McNealy's 69.05 average ranked second.
There are 30 golfers in the Pac-12 with sub-73 averages, including McNealy (1st - 69.04), Boote (7th - 71.07), Wu (17th - 72.21), Swegle (21st - 72.39) and Badhwar (26th - 72.67). Wu's mark is the second-best of any freshman.
No. 9-ranked Stanford (13-3, 8-1 MPSF) hosts the MPSF championship tournament and will play the winner of No. 3 seed Colorado and No. 6 Oregon on Friday at 7 p.m. Third-seeded Stanford is favored to reach Sunday's title match (1 p.m.) most likely against No. 1 seed USC (17-0) at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium. The Trojans are led by Menlo School grad Michaela Michael and include Palo Alto High grad Nina Kelty.
Stanford hosts a three-game series against Bay Area rival California, beginning Friday at 7 p.m. The game also features the third annual Bacon Night, with a variety of concession items served with bacon. The series continues Saturday at 7 p.m. and concludes Sunday at 7 p.m. All three games will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Networks. Cal is 25-18-1 overall (6-7-1 Pac-12).
Stanford (13-26, 0-15 Pac-12) is coming off a tough weekend at Utah, losing all three decisions to the Utes. The Cardinal dropped a doubleheader on Friday and fell in the finale on Sunday.
Jessica Plaza paced the Cardinal offensively, going 4-for-7 (.571) with two doubles, an RBI and a .857 slugging percentage over three games at Utah. Lauren Wegner hit her first home run of the season, a three-run shot to left field.
Stanford is set to compete in the inaugural Pac-12 Conference championships this week at the Merle Norman Stadium in Los Angeles.
"I am looking forward to going down and having a terrific weekend with a great group of individuals who have put in a lot of time for this," Cardinal coach Denise Corlett said. "We are finally getting past that lack of beach experience we have struggled with. We are a unique squad because all of our middles play, and it's been fun to watch them develop and enjoy the process."
The sixth-seeded Cardinal (5-10) will take on third-seeded Arizona (15-3) at 5 p.m. on Friday, with the victor facing the winner between No. 2 UCLA and No. 7 Washington.
One of the youngest teams in the nation, the Cardinal has seen steady improvement across the board throughout the season, with many of its players having never competed on the sand.
"The improvements of this team are definitely palpable. It's easy to tell the difference between our first practice and now," Stanford freshman Halland McKenna said. "Everyone has a lot more confidence, with this being so different from indoor. It's nice to see everyone have that belief in themselves and each other."
"We can't put too much pressure on ourselves because we don't have the experience that some of these other Pac-12 teams have," added Corlett. "Our goal is to go enjoy the experience and play some good volleyball in front of our families and friends."
The team competition, in a double-elimination format, runs through Sunday. The title match will be televised (4 p.m.) by the Pac-12 Networks.