Jan. 26, 2012
2012 Stanford Women's Water Polo Schedule
STANFORD, Calif. -
The shrill sound of an official's whistle will sound the start of Stanford women's water polo's defense of its 2011 NCAA title Saturday in Berkeley. But you'll be excused for thinking that the Cardinal are worried about the bulls-eye believed to be on their collective backs as the defending national champions.
"We're eager to start playing," Tanner notes. "They've been eager ever since it was clear that we were losing a lot of strength of the middle with Amber [Oland] as a goalie, with Mel and Anny [out for Olympic training], Kim Krueger graduating last year, just a lot of the people who played a big role in our championship. This year's group comes back eager to prove themselves as great water polo players and to craft a great championship team."
The Cardinal, ranked No. 1 in the CWPA Varsity Top 20 Poll and the preseason favorite to capture the MPSF title, is eager to open the new campaign and make a run for a second straight crown. That run begins with a doubleheader Saturday in Berkeley, as Stanford takes on No. 11 Loyola Marymount and No. 15 UC Davis at 10:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., respectively, in the California Speedo Invitational.
Yet the Cardinal of 2012 will feature new looks from last year's championship team. Taking on leadership roles this year is a senior class composed of second-team All-American Alyssa Lo (42 goals in 2011), All-MPSF selection Pallavi Menon (34 goals), Cassie Churnside (19 goals) and two-meter defender Monica Coughlan (six goals).
"We have a lot of players coming back who are just great water polo players and can play anywhere in the pool," Tanner says about Stanford's returning talent in 2012. "They're showing their versatility and anticipating the opportunity to show their breadth of skill. We're going to have more people like Pallavi, like Kaley, like Jillian, like Alyssa Lo show their capacity for playing in front of the goal and on the perimeter."
Also back for the Cardinal out in the field are All-America honorable mention Kaley Dodson
(27 goals), fellow sophomores Kaitlyn Lo
(10 goals) and Kelsey Suggs
(eight) as well as junior driver Jillian Garton
Further depth will be provided by sophomores Lexie Ross at the driver position and two-meter Lizzie Peiros, along with junior Alexis Lee, who scored 11 goals last season.
"The seniors have been great leaders, and each brings such different skills, they play different positions," Tanners says. "Cassie being a lefty playing on that side of the pool, Alyssa as a right-handed driver on the opposite side. Pallavi, who's real versatile can play anywhere with her ability and has an uncanny knack for finding openings. And Monica, who's just a fantastic one-on-one defender, especially in front of the goal. They all bring so many different skill sets and personalities to the mix. The collection has created a real diversity to the culture of the team."
Stanford, though, in addition to losing the production of All-America honorable mention driver Kim Krueger (36 goals in 2011) and first-team All-America goalie Amber Oland, also faces a 2012 campaign without its top two scorers from a year ago in two-meter stars Annika Dries and Melissa Seidemann.
Dries, the Peter J. Cutino Award winner, given annually to the nation's top collegiate women's water polo player, as well as the ACWPC National Player of the Year, led the Cardinal with 65 goals a year ago. Among those goals were five scored in Stanford's 9-5 national championship game victory over California.
Seidemann, a first-team All-America pick, ended up second on the team with 51 goals, combining with Dries to form the nation's most formidable two-meter tandem.
Yet this year's Stanford squad sees only opportunity ahead of it. While noting the enthusiasm and eagerness towards the start of the new campaign, Tanner talked about the roles to be played at the two-meter spot by such players as junior Victoria Kennedy and freshman Ashley Grossman.
"We're going to be strong even in those places where we were strong last year, so I think we'll have good two-meter play, good two-meter defense. We're just going to rely on more people than we did last year when we had a huge number play a lot."
Among the many players who will be relied upon are Stanford's five rookies. In addition to Grossman, a member of the U.S. Senior National Team training squad, Catherine Carpenter will also be relied upon at the two-meter spot. Kiley Neushul, another member of the class who has gained experience with the U.S. Senior National Team, and Cory Dodson, the younger sister of Kaley, add depth to at the driver position. In the cage, two-time All-CIF Central Coast Section first-team selection and second-generation Stanford goalie Emily Dorst will provide the Cardinal a strong 1-2 punch alongside the returning Kate Baldoni.
"We're excited that we have freshman coming in, all of whom look ready to play college water polo," Tanner says. "Kiley Neushul and Ashley Grossman will probably play a fair amount right away. Catherine Carpenter and Cory Dodson look great, and Emily Dorst as a goalie is doing a terrific job. They are moreso than most freshman groups ready to handle the emotional intensity of college water polo."
Baldoni, who averaged 7.35 saves a game and boasted a goals-against average of just 4.04 a year ago, brings a strong amount of experience to the cage for the Cardinal in 2012. Platooning with Oland last year, Baldoni saw action in 17 contests and has experienced the rigors of facing some of the nation's top competition.
Much of that competition again takes the form of the Cardinal's biggest rivals in the MPSF, as California, USC and UCLA are expected to once again challenge Stanford for national supremacy. Along with the usual suspects, Tanner notes the challenges also presented by up-and-comers such as Arizona State, San Diego State and San Jose State.
"[The MPSF] is going to be brutal," Tanner notes. "Arizona State has I think nine or 10 international players so they should be substantially improved from last year. They feel they're ready to challenge anyone. San Diego State has great shooters, a younger team but they're always disciplined and well-coached. San Jose State lost a couple of people but they seem to have brought in more than ample offensive talent to replenish that.
"Cal, USC and UCLA are strong as ever. We'll see how things unfold but I expect that we'll have our hands full with every game we play, especially in conference."
While Tanner may feel that the conference has reloaded and could prove to be a handful, no doubt the rest of the nation is saying the same of his Cardinal squad. After this Saturday's opener, the water polo world will get its first look at how things will turn out when Avery Aquatic Center plays host to USC, UCLA, California and others at the 2012 Stanford Invitational Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 4-5.