ANN ARBOR, Mich. - For the second consecutive year the top-seeded Stanford Cardinal will play for the NCAA women's water polo national title. This time, the Cardinal advanced with a 8-4 victory Saturday over fourth-seeded USC at the National Collegiate Championship held at Canham Natatorium in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Stanford (27-1) will take on No. 2 California in an All-Bay Area national title game Sunday. The national title game is set for a 1:30 p.m. PT start.
The Cardinal got superior efforts from a pair of seniors in driver Kim Krueger, who scored three goals and assisted on two others, and goalie Amber Oland, who made 10 saves to anchor a strong defensive showing and even scored her second goal of the season with a highlight-reel toss that covered the length of the tank.
Along with Oland's 10 saves, the Stanford field defense flexed its muscle by holding the Trojans to a paltry 1-for-8 on the power play.
The defense played a major role in the crucial late stages of the contest Saturday. USC scored goals on either end of the third-period intermission to cut a four-goal Cardinal lead down to two at 6-4 with 6:52 remaining in the contest. Yet the Stanford defense remained resolute, killing off a USC 6-on-5 situation with three minutes remaining and keeping the Trojans off the board the rest of the way.
Krueger and Menon helped drive one of the final nails into the Trojan coffin with 4:22 left in the game. With the Cardinal on a power play, masterful ball movement led to Krueger finding Menon alone at the far post where the junior driver quickly one-timed the pass into the empty net for the 7-4 Stanford lead.
The final nail would be provided by Oland with 1:05 remaining. After the defense stopped the Trojan attack once more, Oland held the ball while looking for an outlet pass. Earlier in the contest, Oland had noticed USC goalie Flora Bolonyai well out of her cage ready to jump a long pass, and had attempted a length-of-the-tank shot, which went over the crossbar by inches.
Seeing the same thing with just over a minute to play, Oland pounced on the opportunity to deal USC a final, demoralizing blow. She fired deep once more, and with a range and accuracy that Stanford football quarterback Andrew Luck would have appreciated, perfectly sailed the ball over Bolonyai and into the Trojan cage, eliciting a powerful roar from the Cardinal crowd.
Stanford's offense had done a fine job itself in creating momentum early on. It only took 26 seconds for the Cardinal to take its first lead of the contest, as Krueger found the back of the cage on a quick restart for the 1-0 advantage.
At the start of the second period, with the score knotted at 1-1, Dodson won the opening sprint once again, leading to Seidemann bullying her way into a one-on-one with Bolonyai. Seidemann's shot proved too hard for the Trojan keeper to stop as the ball caromed off Bolonyai's hands and into the back corner of the cage.
Oland continued her red-hot play in the second period, making a big save on a USC power play just a minute in. The defense would foil another Trojan 6-on-5 a minute later, then Oland made yet another save at 5:05 on a point-blank USC shot.
Stanford pushed its advantage to 3-1 on a lightning strike from Krueger. The catalyst of the sequence was Oland, who quickly corralled a Trojan rebound and fed Krueger nearly three-quarters of the tank's length, where the senior southpaw skipped her shot over Bolonyai's hands and into the upper 90 with just over two minutes left in the half.
Two more saves from Oland in the half's final minute preserved the Cardinal's 3-1 lead going into the break.
Krueger would put the Cardinal up by three just 1:17 into the third frame with a great two-way play. The senior deflected and intercepted a Trojan pass in the attacking zone, then scored her third goal on ensuing Cardinal possession.
Krueger then had a hand in the next Stanford goal as she found Dodson open in the right corner. The MPSF All-Freshman Team pick moved in and finished perfectly to give Stanford a 5-1 lead.
After USC scored twice more against just one for the Cardinal to end the frame, the Cardinal defense recovered to help seal up the win.