Stanford wins back-to-back titles
Goalie Kate Baldoni named MVP as Cardinal bags repeat crown
SAN DIEGO -- A tough angle, a one-goal lead, and just over one minute to go in the NCAA Women's Water Polo Championship stared senior Pallavi Menon in the face. She had three problems, but her aim wasn't one. Menon's shot across the goal bounced off the far post and into the cage, sealing Stanford's second consecutive NCAA title, and third overall, with a 6-4 victory against USC.
The Cardinal (26-2) added its third women's water polo national championship to its collection, and the 103rd NCAA title overall for the Stanford Athletics. Stanford previously won women's water polo titles in 2002 and 2011.
Sunday's victory came two years after the Cardinal had lost the 2010 national title game 10-9 to USC in the very same Aztec Aquaplex pool.
Menon's second goal of the game, with 1:11 to go, put the Trojans on the back heel, forcing them to take a quick shot on the next possession. The Cardinal defense, anchored by tournament MVP Kate Baldoni, who made 15 saves Sunday, held firm to preserve the win.
Baldoni earned the tournament's top honor after making a total of 29 saves and allowing just nine goals in Stanford's wins over Pomona-Pitzer, UC Irvine and USC.
Her saves Sunday continually kept the Cardinal's slim leads from evaporating as the Stanford offense engaged in a physical battle for position on the other end.
Neither team ever led by more than a goal, and USC's only advantage came when the Trojans' Madeline Rosenthal scored at the 5:12 mark of the opening period.
The lead lasted just 33 seconds, as Menon opened the Cardinal's account with a power-play goal. Stanford would strike again on the power play with 2:23 left in the first period as Kiley Neushul struck.
The teams traded goals in the final minute of the frame, with USC's Colleen O'Donnell equalizing with 53 seconds left, but one again a Trojan ejection would benefit Stanford, as Kaitlyn Lo fired used a defender to screen USC goalie Flora Bolonyai before firing home to the near post.
The defenses took over at this point, as neither school conceded in the second frame, and it was only a moment of bad luck that the scoreless run was broken a minute into the third period. Victoria Kennedy was called for holding the ball with two hands, and USC's Patricia Jancso converted the resulting penalty shot to pull the Trojans even at 3-3.
Once again, though, the Cardinal answered quickly. Kaley Dodson found space in front of the USC goal and windmilled a shot home just 10 seconds later.
This set the stage for a tense fourth period, in which USC's Monica Vavic tied things up once again at the 6:57 mark. Baldoni would step up to keep things knotted up by making a pair of tough saves, including snuffing out a USC 6-on-5.
Dodson would step up again with 4:13 remaining, as Stanford's powerful 6-on-5 unit powered home its fourth goal of the game, setting up Menon's title-sealing shot three minutes later.