LOS ANGELES, May 12. NOW there are two, and to no one's surprise they're UCLA and Stanford.
UCLA's defending NCAA women's water polo champs (22-3) easily brushed past Loyola-Marymount Saturday at the McDonald's Olympic Pool on the campus of USC, 10-2, while top-seeded Stanford (22-2) crushed Eastern representative Michigan, 13-3, to set up today's 5 PM (PDT) championship match.
UCLA, 22-3, defeated Stanford at Stanford's Avery Aquatic Center last year, 5-4, for the championship and the Cardinal is eager to return the favor in the Bruins' "home pool" this afternoon.
"Oh, yes, that's all we've thought about this season, bringing the title back to Palo Alto," said Cardinal sophomore Brenda Villa, last year's NCAA Player of the Year, who scored a game-high four goals agaisnt the
Wolverines. "We've yet to win the championshjip so that's our focus, beating UCLA."
The Bruins have lost thrice to Stanford this season but defeated the Cartdinal two weeks ago here in the finals of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament, 11-7, to gain the automatic NCAA Final Four bid.
Stanford was selected as the at-large and Western Water Polo Assn. LMU and the Wolverines were added to complete the Final Four.
Both of Saturday's semi-final matches were relative
"laughers" with Stanford getting off to an early 4-0 first-quarter lead and UCLA going up 2-zip in the first two minutes of its match. The rest, as they say, was history.
"UCLA's been playing as the No. 1 ream for the last few weeks and nothing I saw them do today dispells that notion," said LMU coach John Loughran. "Their outside shooting is probably the best in the country. On the inside they definitely had a size advantage over us and you saw the outcome."
LMU lost to UCLA in last year's semis, 11-1, so there's been at least a one-goal improvement in a year.
"We're known for our defense but we let UCLA score too many easy goals today and that is uncharacteristic of our team," Loughran added.
Bruin coach Adam Krikorian said that "going in, we expected a hard-fought game, especially with LMU having a senior-laden team and having been here before. The big thing for us was getting off to that quick start. Getting those two early goals was the key. Once we did that, I knew we were in good
Cardinal coach John Tanner said: "Michigan was tougher than we anticipated. "But we moved the ball really well. We put good pressure on them defensively. It's pretty exciting for us to be in the championship game.
At the beginning [of the season] there were 50 teams and now there are just two."
Stanford threw a blanket over the Michigan offense taking a 4-0, 7-0 and 12-1 lead at the end of each of the first three quarters. Then with the Cardinal reserves playing almost all of the final period and their defense relenting somewhat, the Wolverines scored the match's final two goals.
One wag in the pressbox predicted at the end of the third period that the final score would be "two touchdowns and two extra points to a field goal"
and he wasn't far off.
* * * * *
Stanford went up 9-0 before Michigan (25-12) got on the board via a goal by Stephanie Rupp with 4:16 remaining in the third quarter. Stanford then added three more goals in the period to make it 12-1 at the end of three quarters and all Michigan coach Amber Drury-Pinto coulkd do was stand stoically on the sidelines watching in dismay.
"Wwe were a little nervous starting out but we did some good things. There's a good reason why Stanfrod has been ranked No. 1 most of the year and you saw it out there today. Her name's Brenda Villa."
Aside from Villa's four goals, Stanford received balanced scoring from Jeanine Jackson (two), Lauren Faust (two), Julie Gardner (two) and Nicole Huszcz (one).
Michigan's goals were by senior Jen Crisman, Julie Nesbit and Rupp. Of small consolation to Wolverine coach Drury-Pinto was that Crisman won all four opening sprints. It doesn't hurt that she's a former swimming All-America and Big 10 record-holder in the 100 back.
Stanford goalie Jackie Frank didn't have a tough day in the cage as the Cardinal defense pretty much throttled any Michigan offensive moevs. She did, however, record five saves. Wolverine goalie Betsey Armstrong, despite allowing all 13 Stanford goals, saved 14 otehrs and made very nice defensive plays — including stopping a good half-dozen point-blank shots.
"We've taken the NCAAs one step at a time," said Villa. Our coach told us we can't play the championship game until Sunday so we were really focused on Michigan today. We've stayed in the moment."
Card coach Tanner & Co. exited the pool at halftime of the UCLA match. When asked why he wasn't sticking around until the finals, he smiled" "We've seen enough. We've played them four times this year and they're not doing anything we haven't seen before."
Does he expect the fifth time to be the charm?
"Ask me Sunday night," he shot back.
* * * * *
In the Bruin-Lion match, UCLA came out shooting and went up 2-0 within the first two minutes. It was 4-0 at the end of the first quarter, 6-0 at halftime and 10-2 with one period remaining.
On defense, Bruin goalie Jamie Hipp was very active, moving in and out and forcing LMU shots over the top or onto the crossbars. She finished with seven saves, as did LMU goalie Devon Courtney.
"Loyola and Stanford play similar styles of defense. They both rely on their goalies to make saves. Offensively, this ia a good prep for tomorrow
[Sunday's finals]," said Krikorian.
"Over the past month, we have had a good combination of playing intense yet loose too. We're comfortable in this pool [USC}. We've played here five times this year and have won five times. We're looking forwrad to the challenge tomorrow."
Krikorian added that once the Bruins were up 6-0 at halftime it afforded him the opportunity to "play more people and rest some of our players for the final."
UCLA's leading scorer was Kelly Heuchan, a senior Australian Olympian, and sisters Amber and Ashley Stachowski (two each). Natalie Golda, Julie Lamb
and Kristyn Pulver each scored once. Golda's third-quarter goal was especially wicked. Playing two meters in front ofthe cage and hounded by a pair of LMU players, she got a high pass from Heuchan and blasted the ball past Courtney at about 45 mph.
"Tomorrow will be a battle," said Bruin Robin Beauregard. We've played Stanford four times this year. Anytime these two teams get together, it's
an exciting match. Whoever has the most heart will win it."
MATCH NO. 1 1 2 3 4 – OT
Stafnord (22-2) 4 3 5 2 – —
Michigan (25-12) 0 0 1 2 0 —
Stanford goals: Brenda Villa, 4; Jeanine Jackson, 2; Julie Gardner,
2; Lauren Faust, 2; Ellen Estes, 1; Kate Petit, 1.
Nciole Huszcz, 1.
Michigan goals: Jen Crisman, 1; Julie Nisbet, 1; Stephanie Rupp, 1.
Stanford saves: Jackie Frank, 5.
Michigan saves: Betsey Armstronmg, 14.
MATCH NO. 2 1 2 3 4 — OT
UCLA (22-3) 4 2 4 1 – —
Loyola-Marymount (20-8) 0 0 2 0 – —
UCLA goals: Kelly Heuchan, 3; Amber Stachowski, 2; Amy
Stachowski, 2; Natalie Golda, 1; Jenny Lamb, 1;