Jan. 23, 2013
STANFORD, Calif. -
The collegiate water polo world has never seen a team like the top-ranked Stanford women's squad that opens its 2013 campaign with five games this weekend, beginning Friday afternoon against No. 10 Michigan at Avery Aquatic Center.
"We're excited to get started. It's been awhile now since our championship last May, and the Olympics this past summer," said Stanford head coach John Tanner, who enters his 16th season at the Cardinal helm. "Having those people come back, it is a big challenge I feel because unlike any team I've been around we really have seven distinct groups or classifications around our team. We have Mel as a fifth-year senior, we have fourth-year seniors, Anni as a fourth-year junior, we have third-year juniors, second-year sophomores, second-year freshmen and first-year freshmen."
Following Friday's home opener, the Cardinal will travel to Santa Barbara for the UCSB Winter Invite. There, Stanford will take on No. 18 Cal Baptist (9 a.m.) and No. 6 UC Irvine (2:50 p.m.) Saturday and end the draw Sunday against No. 8 Loyola Marymount (9:10 a.m.) and CSU Bakersfield (12:40 p.m.).
The two-time defending NCAA champion Cardinal returns 2012 Peter J. Cutino Award recipient and ACWPC Player of the Year Kiley Neushul, a sophomore driver who scored a team-high 58 goals last season. Also returning is the National Collegiate Championship MVP, senior goalie Kate Baldoni, who led the MPSF with a goals-against average of 4.50 and at the three-game championship tournament made 29 saves while allowing just nine goals.
First-team All-American Kaley Dodson returns for her junior year after a 29-goal campaign in 2012, and ACPWC All-America honorable mention Ashley Grossman enters her sophomore year after scoring 47 goals in her debut season. Junior driver Kaitlyn Lo, a 27-goal scorer in 2012, rounds out the four 20-goal scorers returning from last year's 26-2 national champion team.
As if these returners and their credentials weren't enough, Stanford, a unanimous pick by voters for the preseason No. 1 ranking in the CWPA Varsity Top 20 Poll and by the MPSF's head coaches to finish atop the conference table, brings in three members of this summer's Olympic Gold Medal-winning U.S. Women's Water Polo Team.
Two Olympians, senior two-meter Melissa Seidemann and junior two-meter Annika Dries, return to The Farm to pick up right where they left off as the top scorers of Stanford's 2011 NCAA Champion squad. Seidemann enters her final year having been a finalist for the 2011 Cutino Award and a three-time ACPWC All-American. She has scored 164 goals over her Stanford career, reaching the 50-goal mark in each of her three seasons. This summer in London, the Walnut Creek native scored seven times to tie for second on the U.S. squad over its 5-0-1 run.
Dries begins her third season on The Farm, having scored 65 goals en route to earning the Cutino Award, MPSF Player of the Year and National Collegiate Championship MVP during Stanford's 2011 championship run. An ACWPC All-American two years ago, Dries, along with Seidemann and Grossman, makes up Stanford's rock-solid foundation at the two-meter position. At the Olympics, she tossed in a pair of goals during the gold-medal run for the U.S.
Rounding out the trio of Olympic champions and making her Stanford debut this season is Olympic MVP and FINA Best Female Water Polo Player of 2012 Maggie Steffens. The Danville native scored 21 goals on 27 shots to pace all players in London this past summer, and over the past three years has earned six gold medals with the U.S. Senior National Team.
"I'm excited. The fall was challenging because we had these people coming in from all different backgrounds and areas and getting them all together and playing together left us with a sense that each day we were just trying to walk through things," Tanner noted. "Only recently have we started putting together transitions for one phase of the game to the next."
Throw in a crew of returners including seniors Jillian Garton (17 goals in 2012) and Alexis Lee (12), juniors Kelsey Suggs (six) and Lexie Ross (four), and sophomores Catherine Carpenter and Cory Dodson (four), along with sophomore goalie Emily Dorst, who posted 51 saves and a 4.67 goals-against average last year, and again one wonders how much more talent can be added.
The answer is much more, actually. Stanford's seven-woman freshman class includes not only Steffens but Canadian Senior National Team member Anna Yelizarova, who scored multiple penalty-shootout goals in the 2011 Pan-Am Games Final, a 27-26 loss to the United States. Also coming to The Farm are Canadian Junior National Team member Gurpreet Sohi, Skylar Dorosin, Rachel Johnson, Melena Masson and goalie Gabby Stone.
Senior two-meter Victoria Kennedy, who scored nine goals last year, will sit out the 2013 season due to injury.
"This is something that has been a long time in the making, and now we're excited about the prospect [of this season]," Tanner said about assembling such a talented roster. "These guys stay really hungry and are eager to prove themselves."
Following this weekend's action, the Cardinal will return to Avery Aquatic Center to host the 2013 Stanford Invitational Feb. 2-3. Stanford begins MPSF play against conference newcomer CSU Bakersfield March 2 at Avery, and will play its final three regular-season MPSF games against UCLA at Avery (April 6), at USC (April 13) and at California for the Big Splash (April 20).
The 2013 MPSF Championship will be hosted by California from April 26-28, and the Cardinal will have its chance at a three-peat from May 10-12 in Boston as Harvard hosts the 2013 National Collegiate Championship.