NCAA women's water polo championships: Cal, Stanford, UCLA, USC win to set up all-Pac-12 semifinals

Don Liebig/UCLA Athletics

The Pac-12’s fearsome foursome of Cal, Stanford, UCLA and USC has advanced to the semifinals of the 2015 NCAA women’s water polo championship hosted by Stanford University. UCLA and Cal will match wits in the first semifinal Saturday at 3:30 p.m. PT, while Stanford and USC will square off in the nightcap at 5:15 p.m.

Stanford

In a match that was a tad lower-scoring than expected, Stanford defeated Princeton, 7-2, in the tournament opener Friday to move on to the semifinals for the 15th time in a row (there have only been 15 NCAA tournaments). Two-time FINA Women’s Water Polo Player of the Year Maggie Steffens and Kiley Neushul each scored three goals for the defending-champion Cardinal, which scored six of its seven goals in the first half. Dani Jackovich provided the other tally for coach John Tanner’s group, while Gabby Stone stopped eight Tiger shots in cage. It likely would have been a larger margin of victory if it wasn't for Princeton goalkeeper Ashleigh Johnson's 18 saves to keep the Tigers somewhat in the match. The Cardinal is looking to become the first team in NCAA women’s water polo championship history to win the event in its home pool.

In other news, it looks like it has been a pretty good week for the Card thus far:

USC

Known for punishing inferior competition, USC scored seven of the first eight goals of its first rounder against Hawaii en route to a 14-7 victory over the Rainbow Wahine. It was a historic day for senior driver Monica Vavic, the daughter of head coach Jovan Vavic, who broke the MPSF record for career goals with a rocket of a shot to make it 10-4 Trojans:

In all, 11 Women of Troy rattled the cage, with Vavic, Brigitta Games and Brianna Daboub each striking twice. The win sets up a semifinal match with Stanford Saturday at 5:15 p.m. PT. It tends to get interesting when the Cardinal and Trojans square off – Stanford outlasted USC in overtime earlier this season in Southern California, while USC edged Stanford in triple sudden death in the 2013 NCAA championship game, in what is the longest NCAA women’s water polo championship match ever played.

UCLA

Like its SoCal rival, UCLA scored seven of the first eight goals against its quarterfinal opponent as the seven-time NCAA champion Bruins defeated UC San Diego, 9-2, at Avery Aquatic Center. After junior Alys Williams gave UCLA to opening edge 27 seconds into the game, UC San Diego’s Jolene Guiliana tied things up midway through the first quarter. It was all UCLA after that, however, as the Bruins rallied off seven consecutive tallies, taking a 7-1 lead into halftime and tacking on another before the Tritons found the back of the cage again. The top-ranked Bruins are on to the semis for the fifth consecutive season.

I can get with an #8splash. Emily Donohoe, Devin Grab and Kelsey O’Brien each scored twice for head coach Brandon Brooks and friends.

California

The Golden Bears outlasted a battle-tested UC Irvine, 6-5, in the final opening-round match of the day thanks to Kelly McKee’s game-winner with 2:54 left in regulation. Cal, Stanford, UCLA and USC have long been ahead of the curve in women’s water polo (only one other team has appeared in an NCAA title game), but UC Irvine had prepared itself well for the big stage, coming into the tournament with the toughest non-conference schedule in the nation.

Cal scored four straight after a quick UC Irvine goal to start things off, but the Anteaters responded with four in a row of their own to take a 5-4 lead midway through the third. A 5-5 game entering the final frame of regulation, Richard Corso’s squad clamped down on defense and forced turnovers on the Anteaters’ final three possessions to secure the victory after McKee’s go-ahead cage-rattler.  During the game, Hungarian sophomore Dora Antal moved up the Cal record books:

Should be a fun Saturday on The Farm, and we’ll recap the coverage for you here on Pac-12.com.

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