April 26, 2010

 

By Trevor Freeman
Special to NCAA.com


Number one versus number two. Stanford.  USC.  Two institutions known for their outstanding water polo met on Saturday and their matchup was everything the water polo public wanted.  This weekend truly kicked off championship season as a number of conference tournaments got underway.  Over the next week, dreams will begin and bubbles will burst.  In this week’s notebook we will dive into all of that, however we begin with an interview that could not have come at a better time.  

Before Stanford did battle with the Women of Troy, I had the opportunity to catch up with the leader of the Cardinal to discuss his team.  John Tanner won an NCAA Championship in 2002 and this year’s squad looks ready to add another championship ring to his finger.  Below is my interview with Coach Tanner prior to his team’s one-goal victory over USC.
What does your team need to do to beat top-ranked USC and beyond that, win an NCAA Championship?

I know the level we need to play at to give ourselves a shot.  Against USC, we need to stop Kami Craig and their entire balanced offense.  They have a lot of good shooters.  Joelle Bekhazi is an excellent outside shooter.  To win NCAAs, we need to come together as a team in all phases of the game.  We've been good on offense, defense, six on five, five on six in games but we haven't played well at all of those phases at the same time and put together a complete game.

Jessica Steffens was a member of the 2008 United States Olympic team and recently scored a dramatic game-winner in your victory over third-ranked California.  What makes her the elite player that she is?

Jessica is a phenomenal defender.  Both one on one and team.  She can influence games on defense better than anyone in college and most anyone in the world.  She anticipates what offensive players are doing and thinking.  Jessica also complements our great offensive weapons.  On that play against California, she got free at eight meters and another senior, Kelsey Holshouser, found her with a great pass.  If you watched that 2008 Olympics, when the US got behind in the Gold Medal game, Jessica scored goals to get us back into it.  She is great in big games as she can get crucial stops when a game is on the line.

Your team has great overall balance.  Can you tell us a little about that quality that you have and the importance of it in your style of play?

I like to think, that we can win by outplaying teams in every phase of the game.  We score out of two-meters, we score from the outside, we score on the counter and we score on the six on five.  We do not give away any facets of the game where goals can be generated.  I think we have ten or more goals in all but a couple of games.  On defense, we have shutdown defenders like Jessica Steffens that can take away the other team's top players.
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It was Senior Day at Stanford and the five women that will be leaving The Farm at the end of this campaign delivered an MPSF regular season championship as a going away present.  Seniors Kelly Eaton and Kelsey Holshouser each scored twice to lead Stanford to a 7-6 double overtime victory over top-ranked USC.  Eaton’s second goal with 4:20 left in the second overtime period was the game-winner for a Cardinal team that will rise to the number one ranking this week.  Senior two-meter player Alex Koran drew two five-meter penalty shots while Jessica Steffens made a host of field blocks for the Cardinal.  As good as those seniors were, it was junior goalie Amber Oland who truly made the difference as she had thirteen saves and held the Trojans to only two goals over the final twenty-seven minutes of the game.

The first ticket to the NCAA Tournament was punched on Sunday and it was a familiar face as Marist qualified for their third straight NCAA Tournament with a convincing 18-5 victory over Iona.  Samantha Swartz was the Most Outstanding Player of the MAAC Tournament and she registered a hat trick in the victory.  Jessica Getchius anchored the defense as she had sixteen saves for the Red Foxes.  Last season, Marist finished seventh place at NCAAs and the Red Foxes should be headed for the seventh seed at NCAAs.  The Red Foxes will enter the proceedings on a bit of a roll as they have won twelve out of their last fourteen games.

They are doing it again.  Last year, the Michigan Wolverines won twenty-seven of their final twenty-eight games to end the season with their only loss coming to the eventual NCAA Champion UCLA Bruins in the NCAA Tournament.  With their CWPA Western Division Championship win over Indiana on Saturday, seventh-ranked Michigan’s winning streak now stands at seventeen games.  Two freshmen in Alex Adamson and Kiki Golden led Michigan’s strong defensive effort in their 5-3 win over Indiana.  Adamson had seven saves while Kiki Golden notched four steals in the Wolverine victory.  With Brittany May being injured, Adamson along with sophomore Morgan Turner have had to see more minutes and they both have performed admirably.  Keep an eye on Michigan as this season winds down and remember this stat.  Only two teams outside of the top five have defeated teams ranked in the top five.  Michigan is one of those two teams (San Diego State’s season opening win over UCLA is the other) as the Wolverines knocked off fifth-ranked Hawaii in double overtime on February 7th.  That win shows that Michigan is capable of playing at the level necessary to defeat a top tier team.

Player of the Week

Jessy Cardey, UC-Irvine:  Sixteenth-ranked UC-Irvine won three games in three days to capture their second straight Big West tournament title and Cardey was critical in their success.  The freshman from Riverside, CA won Most Valuable Player of the Big West tournament and her hat trick was critical in helping UC-Irvine upset eleventh-ranked Cal State Northridge 12-11 in the championship game.   

We are going to hand out an Honorable Mention this week to Allison Carter and Hallie Kennan of Bucknell.  Carter had fourteen saves and Kennan had three goals and three assists in leading Bucknell to their first ever CWPA Southern Division tournament championship.

Contest to Watch

The MPSF, WWPA, CWPA and SCIAC are all holding their conference tournaments next weekend so four automatic bids will be passed out.  The importance of winning these conference tournaments is critical as there are only three available NCAA at-large bids.  One game that I will be monitoring is the MPSF first round matchup between fourth-ranked UCLA and fifth-ranked Hawaii.  The winner of that game sees their NCAA at-large chances grow exponentially.  The loser is most likely sitting out the Big Dance.