The two-time defending national champion Stanford women's water polo team finds itself in familiar territory this weekend for the NCAA championships at UCLA's Spieker Aquatics Center.
The second-seeded and third-ranked Cardinal (21-5) opens defense of its crown Friday, with a match against No. 7 UC Santa Barbara (18-12) at 1:45 p.m. The winner advances into Saturday's semifinal match against either third-seeded and second-ranked UCLA or No. 10 UC San Diego.
Stanford has won four of the past five titles and five overall. The Cardinal will be seeking its first three-peat.
Undefeated and top-ranked USC, which meets 15th-ranked San Diego State in the first round, is seeking its fourth overall title and its first since 2013, when the Trojans edged Stanford, 10-9.
The host Bruins have won seven titles, but none since winning five in a row between 2005-09. No other school has won a title in the 16-year history of the event. In fact, only two other schools California and Loyola Marymount, once each has reached the championship match.
Stanford downed the Gauchos, 16-5, on March 22 and split two games with UCLA. The Cardinal has fallen three times to the Trojans, the latest an 8-5 decision in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament championship match two weeks ago.
Fourth-seeded Arizona State and No. 5 Michigan meet in another first-round match, with that winner going against USC or San Diego State. Sunday's title game is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.
Seniors Rachel Johnson, Gurpreet Sohi and Anna Yelizarova will be competing for the final times in Stanford uniforms. The trio has helped compile a 100-11 record.
Jamie Neushul and Jordan Raney were named first team All-MPSF performers, while redshirt sophomore goalie Julia Hermann and Yelizarova were honorable mention.
Kat Klass earned MPSF Newcomer of the Year honors, while Madison Berggren joined her on MPSF's all-freshmen team. Raney was last year's Newcomer of the Year.
Klass is second on the team with 41 goals, behind only Neushul's 46. Sohi is next with 35 goals, followed by Dani Jackovich and Yelizarova, each with 29, Katie Dudley (24), Berggeren (22), Raney (20), Shannon Cleary (18) and Sophia Monaghan (14).
Stanford has outscored its opponents, 302-144, thus far. Hermann has a goals-against average of 5.67 and has recorded 213 saves.
Stanford can make a significant move in the Pac-12 standings when it travels to Salt Lake City to open a three-game series against conference co-leaders Utah on Friday at 11 a.m. (PT).
The Cardinal (10-11 in the Pac-12, 24-19 overall) are one of five teams tied for fifth, three games behind the Utes (13-8, 18-24) and Washington (13-8, 27-16).
Stanford enters the weekend ranked first in the nation in fielding percentage (.986). The Cardinal has the fewest errors in the country, with 22 in the first 43 games. Top-ranked Florida is second with 27 errors in 49 games.
Stanford is on pace to set a record for fewest errors in a season, which is currently 49 in 2009, and to set a NCAA record for fielding percentage, which is currently held by USF at .985.
Stanford pitching enters the weekend series atop the Pac-12 in ERA (3.03), opposing batting average (.232), and fewest runs (153), earned runs (129), hits (323), and home runs (15) allowed.
Ninth-ranked Stanford received an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament, its sixth appearance in seven years, after finishing second to USC in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament.
The Cardinal (14-4) meets James Madison (10-9) on Friday at 3 p.m. at the venerable Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the site of two Summer Olympics.
The winner advances to Sunday's noon contest against the host Trojans (19-0), which earned a first-round bye.
Stanford seeks its first trip to the Final Four, hosted by Saint Joseph's and played at Talen Energy Stadium in Philadelphia.
The Dukes own a 3-2 edge in their series with the Cardinal, though Stanford won the last time the teams met, in 2013. James Madison beat the Cardinal in the first round of the 2010 NCAA tournament.
Kelsey Murray leads Stanford in scoring with 66 points on 42 goals and 24 assists. MPSF Rookie of the Year Anna Salemo has 43 points on 34 goals and nine assists.
Murray was named first team all-MPSF, as was Adrienne Anderson, Meg Lentz and Kelly Myers. Salemo also earned second team honors along with goalkeeper Allie DaCar and Dillon Schoen.