PALO ALTO, Calif. -- When Stanford had to decide who was going to take the 5-meter penalty shot with 11 seconds remaining to possibly break Sunday's 6-6 tie and win the NCAA Women’s Water Polo Championship, there wasn’t much debate.
Senior Kiley Neushul might not have known she was going to take the shot, but the rest of her teammates did.
“I think what was going on in my head is you get kind of hot during a game and you look at your teammates and they were like, ‘You got it, you got it,’ " said Kiley Neushul, who finished with five goals. “At first I looked at them and thought I had scored too many, not to brag, but I don’t usually score that much during a game.”When Neushul put the ball in the lower right corner of the net to win the game for the Cardinal, it was a fitting end to an unbelievable season.
The team came into the championship game ranked No. 2, but had defeated top-ranked UCLA two of the three times the two sides had played, and the only loss was in overtime.
Neushul made sure that overtime wasn’t an option.
“I just depended on the support of my teammates,” Neushul said. “I had the hot hand and I kind of rode on that.”
It was fitting that the other prominent senior, Ashley Grossman, scored Stanford’s other two goals. Both players were named to the All-Tournament team, but Grossman, like Neushul, had some confidence problems during the tournament.
“After we played Princeton I was a mess,” Grossman said. “I was worried I wouldn’t bring the leadership that other seniors in the past had done. We talked a lot about having composure and that was the theme of our weekend.”
Ironically, Grossman didn’t even know she and Neushul were the only ones that had scored.
“Without even trying we showed up as seniors,” Grossman said. “It was a lot of fun."
Junior Maggie Steffens never doubted the two would perform in the title game.
“It was really awesome that they scored all the goals,” Steffens said. “It just proves their leadership. Kiley was saying she had a hot hand but I don’t believe in hot hands. I think if you want to get it done it’s going to get done. I think both of them had that extra fire in them that gave them that hot hand.”
UCLA head coach Brandon Brooks saw first-hand all season how powerful Neushul was for her team.
“She is a fantastic player,” Brooks said. “On any given day she’s one of the best players in the world. We probably should have done a better job on her but she played a great game in her final game as a senior.”
The pressure on the team this week was palpable. They were trying to become the first women’s water polo team that hosted the championship to win it. They also kept Stanford’s streak alive of 38 consecutive years with at least one NCAA Tournament victory.
“Another senior on our team, Emily Dorst’s father, Chris, was on men’s water polo team that started the streak,” Stanford head coach John Tanner said. “We are very much in tune with that streak and the tradition and history of national championships.
“As far as winning as the host, the pressure this week as tough,” Tanner continued. “We didn’t talk about it much, but we knew it was there and that no one had ever done it. We wanted this for our fans.”
Steffens wanted it for her two senior teammates.
“I think they showed their passion and their heart in this game,” Steffens said. “I know personally I was fighting for them. I would not let them lose this game. There was no way we were going to let them walk away without this national championship. They deserve it so much.”
Though Neushul and Grossman have won two previous NCAA championships, this one might mean more because of how they earned it.
“I’ve never had a good NCAA Tournament, ever,” Neushul said. “It’s nice that I finally got one.”