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NCAA Women’s Water Polo semifinal: No.3 Cal falls to No.2 Stanford 11-7

It will be a USC-Stanford final tomorrow.

Can Cal Women’s Water Polo beat rival Stanford for the 2nd time this year to advance to the 2018 national championship match?

That elusive first NCAA national championship for Cal Women’s Water Polo will have to wait. Stanford led from the beginning, and they held off Cal to advance to the 2018 national championship final against host USC tomorrow.

4 goals for Jordan Raney and Mackenzie Fischer in this one to lead the Cardinal. A late attempt by the Bears to equalize turned into an over reliance on Carla Carraga who did score 3 goals.

It was a great year for the Cal Bears and congratulations to all of the seniors on the team. Bears will sorely miss them next season.


Although Cal Women’s Water Polo has yet to breakthrough with program’s first NCAA national championship (all of the NCAA championships in this sport to date, it only dates back to 2001, have been dominated by Stanford, USC, and UCLA), 2018 may be that special year for the California Golden Bears. In the year two of the Coralie Simmons era, Cal has itself a fairly complete team with veteran scorer (Hungarian Calympian Dora Antal), veteran all-around player (fellow Hungarian Calympian Anna Illes), more scoring options (Carla Carraga and Emma Wright), veteran defender (Kindred Paul), youth inside scoring option (Kitty Lynn Joustra, a future Dutch Calympian?), and a solid goalkeeper in junior Madison Tagg amongst other solid pieces. Perhaps even more importantly, the graduation last year of Team USA superstar Maggie Steffens from Stanford has turned that powerhouse team from a national championship lock to a mere strong contender.

With three matches left to decide the 2018 NCAA national championship, it is the usual 4 contenders - host USC and rival UCLA in one semifinal (first one, scheduled for 3 pm PT today) and the bay area rivals of Cal and Stanford in another semifinal (5 pm PT).

Golden Bears got through Michigan via a 13-6 result on Friday late afternoon. It took a big 2nd half for the Bears to turn a close match into the expected rout. Here is a quick video review of that match.

Senior and 2x Calympian Dora Antal led the team with 1 goal and 5 assists. The all-time Cal leading scorer continues to pad her program-lead with her career 242nd goal (11th best all time in MPSF) and the 45th of the season. With the Bears playing everyone on the 16-women travel roster, the scoring was pretty evenly distributed with 4 Bears getting 2 goals apiece and 9 different Bears tallying a goal.

Defensively, Bears had to overcome their two best defensive players (Kindred Paul and Anna Illes) being in foul troubles (a player can only picked up 3 exclusion fouls before being disqualified for the rest of the match). Keeper Madison Tagg made 12 saves and got 2 steals.

Cal will face Stanford for the 4th official time this season. Golden Bears’ 8-7 OT win in the regular season match launched the Bears to the No.1 ranking in the country for merely the 2nd time in program history. Bears lost to Stanford in both tournament settings up to now - the early season Stanford Invitational final 11-9 and the most recent MPSF tournament semifinal (hosted by the Bears) 12-9.

In those three matches, Dora Antal has been limited to just 2 goals (both from the most recent MPST Tournament).

In the most recent match, Stanford’s USA Olympian Mackenzie Fischer led everybody by scoring 5 goals; she is their top scorer with 66 goals on the year so far. Her sister Aria, also a part of the USA Olympic team, has a goal in each of the three Big Splash this year. Madison Berggren and Kat Klass each have 33 goals (not counting their 14-8 win over UC Irvine in their quarterfinal match) with Aria right behind with 32 goals.

Julia Hermann is the main keeper for the Cardinal. The redshirt senior was not the starter last year but was instrumental to the Stanford success two years ago in 2016 (when all of the top women’s water players took a redshirt year to compete in the Olympics). She made 31 saves in the three games of that NCAA championships. Of course, the 2016 crown went to USC while Stanford, at full strength, won in 2014, 2015, and 2017.

Should the Bears be successful today, I hope to be writing about the championship match against either USC or UCLA for Sunday afternoon at 3pm PT.

By the way, here is a preview video from Water Polo Nation (made before Friday’s quarterfinals), which includes an interview with Cal’s Dora Antal and Stanford’s Julia Hermann.

5 Keys to Cal success:

  • Feed the ball inside to Joustra - the Cal victory midseason was lead by the Cal freshmen’s 4 goals. Although she is just a freshman, Joustra plays a very physical game inside as the center that free ups the scoring to the rest of the Cal scorers who are all drivers. By successfully passing the ball to Joustra at the 2-meter mark, Cal can also pick up both more power plays and cause some of the Stanford key players to be in foul trouble. Bears to need to do this efficiently though, the USC regular season loss was marred by the Bears turning the ball over without taking shots from bad passes inside.
  • Capitalize on the power play chances - In an expected to be close game, Golden Bears have got to capitalize on around 23 of their power plays in this one when given the one or two women advantage.
  • Tagg in the cage - just like what we have seen in the men’s water polo match and in the big win over Stanford, the Cal keeper will be very busy in these big matches. A minimum of 10+ saves is a must for the team to be in contention.
  • Balance attack early but a Dora Antal show late - with the shot clock running down and the Bears needing a game-winner, the ball should go to Antal. That’s the kind of Cal legacy that Dora Antal deserves to have to close out her splendid collegiate career.
  • Make shots - it’s just that simple

NCAA Women’s Water Polo semifinal: California Golden Bears (20-5) vs. Stanford Cardinal (19-3)

Where: Uytengsu Aquatics Center (Los Angeles, CA)

When: 5 pm PT

Live stream: NCAA website