PALO ALTO, Calif. -- A host team has never won the NCAA Women’s Water Polo Championship, yet 2015 host Stanford is certainly poised to break that streak.
The Cardinal are ranked No. 2, losing only twice all season, and are the winners of three of the past four championships. They are also the only team to appear in all 15 championships.Stanford will face Princeton in the first round Friday. With UC Irvine battling California, USC facing Hawaii and UCLA playing against UC San Diego to round out the tournament field.
“Water polo is a big deal on this campus, has been for a long time,” said Stanford coach John Tanner. “You look at the success of our program and the men’s program being around for nearly 100 years, this is a great place for the sport.”
This is the third time Stanford has hosted the championship. In 2004 USC captured the title and UCLA won in Palo Alto four years later.
Still Tanner believes his team is prepared to win this season.
“Our team is pretty disciplined,” Tanner said. “They have to be. They have a lot of demands on them. They know how to stay focused.”
The team looks to continue its past success.
“It’s an advantage, the experience counts for a lot in a championship like this,” Tanner said. “The atmosphere is going to help us.”
Stanford's facility is one of the best in the country and senior Kiley Neushul said it’s tough on visitors -- Stanford is 11-0 in their home pool this season.
“It is comfortable for us and if you haven’t played here it is an intimidating pool,” Neushul said. “If you look at the stands there is nothing like it. We are here everyday and we have a routine and I think that might help us.”
Teammate Ashley Grossman, also a senior, said being the host has both good and bad points.
“It’s a little bit of both,” Grossman said. “I was telling my fellow seniors how nice it was to have a normal practice instead of being in a new situation where you need to learn where everything is and every little detail.
"Here I know where the clocks are and things like that. But sometimes its nice not to play at your own pool because sometimes you like to silence the crowd instead of having your own crowd being loud. It’s a mix but I do like having this at my home pool.”
One possible disadvantage was taken care of by Tanner. The team is staying at a hotel to block out any possible distractions.
“I like the hotel, you can get away from your friends, you are with the team and there are less distractions,” Neushul said. “You can meet easily because you are all together and you don’t have to set aside time to do it. It’s a lot easier to focus.”
The Cardinal know not to overlook their first round opponent, Princeton.
“I didn’t have to talk to them about that,” Tanner said. “They know what needs to be done. This year we have four great teams that have a solid shot at winning and four teams very eager to prove themselves. I think this is going to be one of the most competitive tournaments we’ve had.”
Stanford looks to keep its perfect home record in tact.
“I definitely think there is a level of calm,” Grossman said. “A lot of the girls have been in this situation before but that doesn’t mean anything, every year is different, every team is different. That doesn’t mean we have a leg up on everyone else, but hopefully we do have a mental edge and want to use it.”
Winning this year has been on the team’s mind since the season began.
“It would mean a lot to win here,” Neushul said. “How much people care about water polo here and the person that has donated the money for this pool is amazing. I think for us would really show our appreciation for all those who have supported this program. It’s been an amazing four years for me and to win here would be really, really special.”