Feb. 23, 2009

 

By Trevor Freeman

Special to NCAA.com

 

Thirteen of the top sixteen teams in the nation converged on the campus of UC Irvine this weekend in the biggest tournament to date this season. The amount of quality in the field was reflected by the tightness of each contest. The games this weekend felt like an NCAA Tournament warm-up as both semifinals were decided by one goal and the Championship game came down to sudden death overtime.  Two heavyweights met for the UCI Invitational crown and we will have a new number one ranked team in the country as second-ranked Stanford took down top-ranked USC in that Championship clash.   

 

Prior to the Invitational Championship, I sat down with Stanford’s head coach John Tanner. Tanner has led Stanford for the past twelve years and in that time has molded the Cardinal into a perennial NCAA contender. His teams have won one NCAA Championship and four MPSF crowns. Before being named the head women’s coach at Stanford, Tanner was both the swimming and water polo coach at Pacific. While there, Tanner coached Brad Schumacher who competed in the Olympics in both swimming and water polo. Tanner has also served as the Assistant Coach for the United States Men’s Olympic team in both Barcelona and Sydney. Below is our discussion about his current Stanford squad and their NCAA chances.

 

What does your team have to do to emerge from this season as NCAA Champions?

Win on May 10th. In order to get there, we have to play consistently on both ends of the pool.  Right now the goal is to consistently play at a high level. If we can do that, we will be fine for those three games in May.

Can you tell us a little bit about Lauren Silver and what makes her the special player that she is?

Lauren is a strong overall player. She shoots well and is a great defender. Lauren is integral on both our 6 on 5 and 5 on 6. She has rounded out her skills in her four years with us and has become a complete player.

Jessica Steffens is obviously a superstar as evidenced by her performance in the 2008 Olympics for Team USA.  What makes her elite?

Jessica is a great one on one and team defender. She is also a great scorer as she had the first two goals for Team USA in the gold medal game against The Netherlands. Jessica just has a great sense of the game.

Kelly Eaton is also a dynamic performer for Stanford.  What makes her successful in the water?

Kelly is a true attacking player. She is energetic and goes full speed on every single play. Kelly always puts herself in a great position to make plays.

Amber Oland has been very strong between the pipes for your squad.  What makes her a standout goalie?

As a team, we like to play fast-paced and we look to counterattack as much as possible. Amber helps us do that because she is a great passer and shot-blocker. She allows us to take chances that might be marginal.

Are there any newcomers that you think might have a breakout season?

Our freshman class as a whole has brought a ton of excitement. There is a lot of buzz surrounding them just like there is a lot of buzz surrounding the women's game in general with Team USA's strong showing in Beijing.  It is fun to be here in practice. We're excited about both our freshman and the incoming class of players that we just signed.   

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This weekend was the most important of the season thus far in women’s water polo as just about every major program in the country was present and accounted for at UC Irvine. The quality of this tournament was reflected in its championship contest as USC and Stanford fought through the field to rematch with each other for the UCI Invitational crown. This contest was one for the ages as USC fought back from being down 5-2 at halftime to tie the game at 8-8 and force overtime.  After being tied 10-10 at the end of the first overtime and 11-11 at the end of the second overtime, freshman Melissa Seidemann found the back of the net on Stanford’s first offensive possession of the third overtime period to score a huge win for the Cardinal. Seidemann was electric all tournament and especially in this win as she scored three goals for Stanford.  Another freshman was also huge as Pallavi Menon scored twice while senior Heather West chipped in another two. Prior to defeating USC for the Championship, Stanford had to survive a stern test from third-ranked Hawaii.  The Cardinal won 11-10 on the strength of four goals by Melissa Seidemann and two each from Lauren Silver, Kelly Eaton and Kim Krueger.   

 

In order to get into the Final, USC had to exorcise some demons. The Women of Troy were matched up in the semifinals with a UCLA team that had beaten them ten straight times. Holding a 5-2 lead after three quarters, USC let the Bruins come storming back. With the score 8-7, UCLA won a power play with twenty-two seconds left.  The Bruins did not score on their first attempt.  However, due to a correctable clock error, UCLA was awarded another power play chance. With two seconds left in the game, it momentarily looked like UCLA’s Kelly Easterday had found pay dirt.  However, it was ruled that she scored with two hands and the goal was taken off the board.  USC finally removed a gigantic monkey off of their back. That being said, there were many water polo observers who felt USC was two to three goals better than the Bruins. UCLA showed this weekend that this is not the case. The Bruins finished the tournament on a high note by defeating third-ranked Hawaii 12-7 in the third place game.

 

While they will not be happy about losing to Hawaii and missing out on a chance to play in the semifinals, San Diego State has to be content with their fifth place finish at the UCI Invitational.  Their performance on the weekend and 10-8 win over tenth-ranked Arizona State keeps them on solid footing in the chase for an NCAA at-large bid. Arizona State reached the fifth place game by defeating fifth-ranked California.  The Sun Devils rallied to score the 11-10 victory as they outscored the Golden Bears 3-1 in the final period to secure the win. Nikki Unbehaun had four goals and Addison McGrath chipped in three for Arizona State. California ended up in seventh place by defeating eighth-ranked San Jose State 9-6. 

 

The Princeton Invitational also took place this weekend and the host team was the story as they swept their four opponents. The Tigers won four close games as they defeated Marist 10-9, Harvard 10-8, Brown 11-9 and Wagner 4-3. In all four games, Princeton displayed a character that could take them far this season.  In the win over Marist, Princeton overcame a 7-4 halftime deficit to score the victory. Against Brown, Princeton had to work overtime after a Sarah Glick goal with two seconds left tied the game for the Bruins. Having to get after it for an extra period was not a problem for the Tigers as Helen Meigs and Tanya Wilcox each scored in overtime to give Princeton a win over their Ivy League rival.  Princeton’s last win of the Invitational came on the back of their defense and goalie Kristen Ward who blocked thirteen shots. The Tigers held Wagner scoreless in the second half to grab a 4-3 victory that moved the Tigers to 7-1 on the season.

 

Princeton’s Invitational was not the only one that a host team had success at as Sonoma State had an outstanding showing at the Seawolf Splash.  Sonoma State went undefeated on the weekend as they knocked off CSU East Bay, Cal Lutheran and Cal State Monterey Bay.  Laurel Stricklin had an outstanding tournament as she scored eight goals while Samantha Mullins chipped in six for the Seawolves.  Sonoma State might be an interesting team to keep an eye on as they are coached by two-time National Player of the Year and former United States Olympian Coralie Simmons.  The Seawolves played eighth-ranked San Jose State tough at the beginning of the season and also hung with Stanford for a half.

 

Another important game to note was the MPSF conference clash that occurred between fourth-ranked UCLA and third-ranked Hawaii on Thursday night.  Down 6-5 at the half, UCLA found their four-time defending NCAA Championship swagger and scored five unanswered goals in the third quarter.  This gave the Bruins enough cushion to cruise to an 11-8 win.  Seven Bruins scored with Priscilla Orozco’s three leading the way.  This loss really hurts third-ranked Hawaii as they dropped to 0-3 in conference play.  Right now, the Rainbow Wahine are staring at a fifth place finish in the MPSF regular season which is a big deal when you look down the road at seeding for the MPSF conference tournament.  That is assuming Hawaii only loses one more game in conference play on a schedule that still includes Arizona State, California, USC and San Diego State.    

 

Player to Watch

 

Helen Meigs, Princeton, Jr.:  The junior scored ten goals on the weekend in leading Princeton to four quality wins.  As a sophomore, Meigs broke Princeton’s single season assist record.  This weekend established that Princeton could be a threat to Michigan and Hartwick for the CWPA crown.

 

Contest To Keep An Eye On

 

Both USC and Stanford should be on trap game alert this weekend.  The Trojans are traveling to Berkeley to take on a Golden Bears team that will be licking their wounds from a seventh place finish at this week’s UCI Invitational.  The Golden Bears could be a lively home underdog in that contest.  Stanford is playing host to a San Jose State team that has already defeated a top four squad in Hawaii earlier this season.  San Jose State would love to pin a loss on their heavyweight neighbors and Juliet Moss always makes the Spartans a team to watch.