NCAA women's water polo championship: Stanford and UCLA to play for title
UCLA and Stanford advanced to the national championship game with semifinal wins Saturday, setting up a rematch of the 2014 title game won by the Cardinal. USC and Cal, losers of the semifinal games, will meet in the third-place game Sunday at 3:30 p.m. PT before the Bruins and Cardinal do battle for all the glory at 5:15 p.m.
UCLA defeated Cal 9-5 in a game of runs in the first semifinal Saturday at Stanford. UCLA took a 4-0 lead and 4-1 edge into halftime before Cal cut the lead to 4-3. As Cal put on the pressure, UCLA countered with another 4-0 run to go up 8-3 and essentially end the contest. It was a rematch of the 2015 MPSF title game, which UCLA won by a much closer score of 9-8.
Rachel Fattal scored three goals for UCLA, which finds itself in the national title game for the second year in a row (the Bruins blew a 5-2 lead and gave up the final seven goals in a 9-5 loss to Stanford in the 2014 title bout). Alys Williams and Kodi Hill both scored twice for Brandon Brooks’ side.
Sophomore international phenoms Dora Antal (Hungary) and Roser Tarrago (Spain) paced Richard Corso’s team with two goals apiece. Cal, which finished the 2015 campaign 0-4 against the Bruins, will try to improve upon a fourth-place NCAA finish in 2014 in the third-place match against USC. The Golden Bears lost in the third-place match last year to USC 11-8.
Stanford held on for a 9-8 victory over USC despite a hard-charging Trojan offensive effort down the stretch. Taking a two-goal lead into the fourth quarter, USC twice cut it to one tally in the final frame but did not allow USC to get off a shot in the waning moments after Kiley Neushul scooped up her own shot that went off the post.
Stanford, which held a 5-4 lead at halftime, was paced by the four goals and four steals of Maggie Steffens, who is internationally recognized as the best women’s water polo player out there. Her penalty-shot goal to give Stanford a 9-7 lead early in the fourth ended up being the game-winner. Jordan Raney and two-meter stalwart Ashley Grossman scored two goals apiece for the Cardinal, while Gabby Stone was clutch in cage with 10 saves, many of them coming down the stretch when USC was pouring on the attack.
A Stanford win Sunday night will give John Tanner and Co. their fourth national championship in the last five years.
Brianna Daboub’s goal with 42 seconds left cut it to one, but USC was unable to secure possession again as time wore off the clock despite its trademark pressing defense nearly forcing a Stanford turnover. MPSF all-time leading scorer Monica Vavic and Brigitta Game each scored twice for Jovan Vavic’s squad, while Brazilian goalkeeper Victoria Chamorro made six saves in net.