May 15, 2010

By Kyle Kensing
Sports Media Exchange

SAN DIEGO - Just like it had three times prior this season, Stanford defeated California in women's water polo. Only this time, it was in an NCAA championship semifinal, so it means more than bragging rights in the Bay Area rivalry. This victory sends Stanford to Sunday's championship to face the winner of Loyola Marymount - USC.

"We've beaten [Cal] 27, 28 straight times over 10 years, so law of averages catches up to you at some point," said Stanford coach John Tanner. "They've spent a lot of time studying us, preparing for us and it's their first time qualifying for the NCAA [championship].

"[Beating Cal] is a big deal for us," he said.

It took a heroic defensive effort on Saturday and a stingy performance from Amber Oland to keep Cal at bay a fourth time at the San Diego State University Aztec Aquaplex.

The Golden Bears took an early 3-2 lead through a period and a half, proving Tanner's analysis that Cal is "statistically a great first-half team."

But the second half belonged to Stanford.

Cal was shut out in the final 16 minutes, forced to settle for shots in the shot clock's waning seconds and yielding no result.

"We wanted to make them shoot around us," Oland said. "Everyone was diving after every ball.. If they score, they score, but we want to dive after every ball."

That defensive tenacity compensated for what Tanner said was a sub-par offensive showing. Still, the Cardinal capitalized on the opportunities it needed to.

Melissa Seidemann powered the Cardinal with a pair of goals, including the final: a nifty, no-look backhand from just in front of the goal that eliminated any hope of a Cal rally.

Seidemann said the Cardinal water polo team drew inspiration from the university's men's volleyball team, which won a national championship earlier this month.

"We watched them beat Cal State Northridge...and Penn State in three sets, all together as a team. That got us excited us, got us motivated.

"None of us were too nervous when we got [to the championship]," she said.

Any nervousness lacking on either side may have manifested in physical play. The two sides battled vigorously, often yielding penalties.

"Not more physical, just more exaggerated," Seidemann described it. "But through all the kicking and pushing...we're just doing it to makes us better."

Stanford failed to capitalize on its power-play opportunities, converting on none of the 10. Cal scored twice on the power play.

"You look at the power play situation. With a few more opportunities, we'd have been tied," Cal coach Richard Corso said.

The Golden Bears suffered three game exclusions on the afternoon, but Corsico said those had little impact on the outcome.

"Yellow cards, game exclusions, I'm not worried about that kind of stuff. It's not like we were playing the Russians," he said.

He added: "We allowed a few...soft goals, but they were definitely two goals better than us today."

A part of that Saturday, and all season, said Tanner was his team's depth. The Cardinal rotated 12 players in the first half, and said the lack of drop-off was crucial.

"We got a complete effort and that let us play at a fast tempo. I liked the number of possessions we got and the energy level. That was favorable to us," he said.

Oland reiterated this sentiment of depth.

"Our second string defense plays against first string offense every day in practice, so they get confident and...we all look better because of it," she said.