Maggie Steffens scored the game winner with nine seconds left and the No. 2 Stanford women's water polo team won the program’s sixth NCAA championship with an 8-7 victory over No. 1 UCLA on Sunday.
The Cardinal has claimed five of the last seven NCAA crowns and appeared in every national final since 2010. The win was also the 113th NCAA team title overall for the department, which tied UCLA for the most all-time.
The Bruins got to No. 100 first but Stanford has been on their heels for several years. UCLA still has one more women's water polo title and no one has quite been able to match the Bruins five-year domination of the sport between 2005-09 under now Team USA coach Adam Krikorian.
It's special company nonetheless. There are only three schools and three coaches who have won national titles since the NCAA began sponsoring a championship in the sport in 2001.
Menlo-Atherton and Stanford grad John Tanner and USC's Jovan Vavic are the others. You won't find better coaches in one state.
Stanford and UCLA met for the national championship for the eighth time. Each has beaten the other four times.
Knotted 7-7 with 30 seconds to go, Stanford (23-3) turned the ball over and the Bruins (24-2) called timeout to set up a play for the game’s final shot.
UCLA never got the chance. Steffens tipped a Bruin pass on the outside, the Cardinal regained possession with 14 seconds left and immediately used its final timeout.
With nine seconds on the clock, Madison Berggren got the ball to Steffens at five meters. She rifled a rocket to the top of the cage to clinch the championship.
Maddie Musselman launched a desperation attempt for UCLA as the clock expired, but it was easily swatted away by Stanford goalkeeper Gabby Stone.
Stanford, which never trailed, went up 7-5 early in the fourth quarter when Steffens drew a pair of defenders and flipped the ball to Shannon Cleary.
Cleary drove on goal and beat Carlee Kapana to the far post, but UCLA responded and pulled within one when a Musselman heave from deep skipped in as the shot clock was winding down (5:42).
The game stayed 7-6 for the next five minutes and featured some impressive saves from Gabby Stone. At 4:07, UCLA’s Alys Williams slipped behind the defense and was 1-on-1 with Stone at two meters. Stone, who played with the U.S. national team all the way up to the Olympics, stretched her arms wide to make the stop.
Two minutes later it was Stone again, this time shutting down Olympian Rachel Fattal in the 6-on-5 to preserve the slim one-goal margin (2:19).
UCLA tied things for the first time with 51 seconds remaining when Musselman, another Olympian, tallied her third to set up the frenetic finish.
Steffens had a hat trick for Stanford, her third of the weekend, and was named the tournament’s MVP for the second time.
Makenzie Fischer joined her on the all-tournament first team and Stone, Jamie Neushul and Jordan Raney were named to the second team.
UCLA beat Stanford twice during the regular season.
Stanford tested the Bruins early and jumped out to a 5-2 lead at the half. Berggren got the Cardinal on the board on its first possession (7:19). After a defensive stop, Stanford came down the pool, Raney made the first pass to Berggren and the lefty hammered it in at the near post.
Fischer drew an exclusion and Raney converted the power play goal at 3:35 in the first to put Stanford up 2-0. Bronte Halligan found Maddie Musselman for UCLA’s first score the next time down (3:11) and the Cardinal lead was one after one.
Neushul skipped in her first of two goals early in the second quarter (7:00). At 4:13, Stone got a hand on Kodi Hill’s shot in the 6-on-5, but the ball inched across the line to make it 3-2 Stanford.
Steffens scored back-to-back goals at 3:32 and 2:44 to wrap up the first half and give the Cardinal its 5-2 advantage at the break.
Williams sandwiched a pair of third-quarter scores for UCLA around a Neushul tally (3:55) and secured her hat trick to lead off the final period (7:39) before Stanford went up 7-5 on Cleary’s goal.
The water polo championship was the fourth NCAA title in the past six months for Stanford (men’s soccer, women’s volleyball, women’s swimming and diving), the department’s most in a single year 2001-02. Stanford has won at least one NCAA team title for 41 consecutive academic years, an ongoing record.