To come within six seconds of forcing overtime in the championship game of any team sport is impressive. To do so without a handful of key personnel is remarkable.
Seniors like Gupreet Sohi, Anna Yelizarova and Rachel Johnson made sure the Stanford women's water polo team focused on the season with the current roster.
The Cardinal knew it would be without star players like Maggie Steffens, Gabby Stone and Mackenzie Fischer, all of whom are playing with the U.S. National Team in preparation for the 2016 Rio Olympics. Stanford was not about to start making excuses. There was plenty of talent around to defend its national title and every ounce of energy and concentration was used to that end.
With last Sunday's 8-7 loss to USC in the NCAA title match in the rear view mirror, the Cardinal can begin planning for another championship run.
Stanford will open next season with arguably the best goalkeeper tandem in the nation with Stone and Julia Hermann, who was named to the NCAA All-Tournament first team and Mountain Pacific Sports Federation honorable mention. She turned in one of the most successful seasons in school history under the most pressure-packed of situations.
Hermann, a year removed from a knee injury, was the only experienced goalie on the roster this year. She could not afford an off day and she never had one. She averaged 8.81 saves a game and allowed an average of 5.67 goals in setting a single-season school record with 244 saves.
Stone, who took the year off from school to train for the Olympics, returns as an All-American goalie. She ranks fifth on the all-time saves list with 401, needing 314 to match Meredith McColl's career mark of 715.
Steffens, who deferred entering Stanford as a freshman four years ago, returns with 164 career goals, ranking her 11th on the all-time list. She'll rejoin a team that will bring back eight of its top 10 scorers, including Jamie Neushul, who needs three goals to reach 100 for her career.
Steffens led all Olympians in scoring in helping the Americans earn gold at the 2012 London Games. She's also a two-time FINA Female Athlete of the Year. FINA is the world-wide governing body of the sport.
Fischer deferred her freshman year to take part in the Olympics. She led Team USA in scoring last year as one of two high school players on the squad.
MPSF Freshman of the Year Kat Klass and fellow rookie Madison Berggren proved capable of making significant contributions for a team that carried lofty goals throughout the year.
Other returning scorers include Dani Jackovich, who finished fourth with 32 goals this year, Katie Dudley, Shannon Cleary, Jordan Raney and Sophia Monghan. Neushul and Raney were also named all-NCAA tournament.
Sacred Heart Prep grad Malaika Koshy is part of a highly regarded recruiting class that also joins the program in the fall. Goalkeeper Emalia Eichelberger, Kalya Constandse and Hannah Shabb bring Team USA experience with them and Lauren Bywater is one of the most distinguished players to ever come from the Riverside area.
Stanford completed the season with a 23-6 record, with four of those losses to undefeated USC (26-0).
Stanford, which has never finished lower than third at the national championship tournament and is the only team to appear in all 16 since its inception in 2001, is 33-11 all-time in NCAA postseason play.
The Cardinal has reached a NCAA record 12 championship matches, winning five of them.