LOS ANGELES, April 27..IT'LL be deja vu all over again Sunday afternoon in the finals of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation women's water polo championships.
The match is slated to begin at 4:15 pm Pacific Daylight Time at the McDonald's Olympic Swim Stadium on the campus of USC.
For the fourth time this season, defending NCAA Champ UCLA (20-3), and last year's runners-up, Stanford (21-1), will play each other. Only this time the stakes are considerably higher. The winner of the MPSF title gets an automatic bid into the NCAA Final Four in two weeks, also at USC.
Last season Stanford beat the Bruins, 8-5, in the MPSF Finals at Honolulu to run its record to 26-zip. The Cardinal then handily defeated Brown in the NCAA semis at its home pool Avery Aquatic Center two weeks later, and all that stood in the way of Big Red's inaugural NCAA Championship were Coach Adam Krikorian's Bruins.
However, the visitors proved to be singularly rude as UCLA won the title, 5-4, to spoil Stanford's chances of becoming the first team to run the table.
This season the Bruins and Cardinal have played thrice, with Stanford coming out on top each time, most recently six weeks ago at UCLA in the teams' only
Stanford cruised past Cal. State Long Beach, 10-4, in the opening semi-final match here this afternoon while the Bruins edged host USC (25-4), 7-6, in the other semi, setting the stage for Sunday's grand finale.
"They (Stanford) have had our number all season we we'd like to thinm it's payback time," Bruin coach Adam Krikorian said.
Stanford coach John Warren wasn't interested in a "war of words" but said he felt confident of his team's chances. "I look forward to an exciting, well-played game between two evenly matched teams."
Last year's NCAA finale was the inaugural under the organization's official sponsorship. UCLA won the title in 2000 when women's water polo was still
considered a "demonstration" sport.
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No. 1 ranked Stanford had little trouble with Long Beach, racing to a 4-1 first quarter lead, upping the margin to 5-2 at halftime, then scoring four more goals in the last quarter.
Four Cardinal plaeyrs each scored a pair of goals, including last week's MPSF Player of the Week, Ellen Estes; Wendy Watkins, Margie Dingeldein and Julie Gardner. The Lubers, Hanah and her sister Kelly, scored the other goals.
Stanford goalie Jackie Frank had eight saves.
For the 49ers (19-12), who also lost to Stanford in the semis of last season's men's tournament at Stanford (won by the Cardinal over UCLA), Drue
Wawrzynski was high-scorer with a pair.
SCORE BY QUARTERS 1 2 2 4 — T
Cal. State Beach State 1 1 2 0 — 4
Stanford 4 1 1 4 — 10
CSULB Goals: Drue Wawrzynski, 2; Robyn Gordin, Roberta Stewart
Stanford Goals: Margie Dingeldein, 2; Ellen Estes, 2; Julie Gardner, 2;
Wendy Watkins, 2; Hannah Luber, Kelly Luber.
CSULB Saves: Bri Hawkins, 7.
Stanford Saves: Jackie Frank, 8.
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Unlike the last time the Bruins and Trojans met at the "ol' water hole" two weeks ago here, with the Bruins winning only after a last-second goal by the
Trojans was ruled to have been scored after time ran out, No. 2-ranked UCLA went up 5-4, at halftime and played aggresive defense in the second half to thwart the Trojans' chances.
USC, ranked No. 3, took a 2-1 first-quarter lead on goals by Sofia Konoukh and Aniko Pelle. UCLA scored the match's opener on a blast by Maureen Flanagan, and after SC countered, Bruin junior Robin Beauregard tallid twice and senior Kelly Heuchan and junior Jessica Lopez each hit the back of the net to give thev isitors the halftime advantage.
After SC tied the score at 5 early in the third period, froshwoman Amber Stachowski found the range to put the Bruins up for keeps, 6-5. Beauregard scored her third goal late in the final quarter to ensure the victory.
Bruin goalie Jamie Hipp, showing no ill effects from a strained hip she incurred in the earlier Trojan match, was sharp in the cage with 12 saves.
Trojan Eszter Gyori was her team's high-scorer with two goals and goalie Sarah Mix had three saves.
SCORE BY QUARTERS 1 2 3 4 — T
USC 2 1 1 0 — 6
UCLA 1 4 1 1 — 7
2, Eszter Gyori; Sofia Konoukh, Shelli Linza, Aniko Pelle, Sandra Milicev.
Robin Beauregard, 3; Kelly Heuchan, Jessica Lopez, Muareen Flanagan, Amy
USC: Sarah Mix, 3
UCLA: Jamie Hiopp, 12
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The championship game is schedueld to faceoff at 4:15 pm. However, a full
slate of game is on tap starting at 10 am with Pacific playing Cal. State
Northridge for 11th place, followed by Irvine vs. Santa Barbara for ninth,
followed by San Diego State-Hawaii for seventh, then San Jose State vs. Cal
for fifth, and then Long Beach vs. USC for third.
Whichever team loses the final won't necessarily be shut out of the Final
Four, as it is likely the selection committee will choose two West Coast
teams as well as a pair of East Coast schools.
However, as a certain septuple Olympic gold medalist's father was always
wont to say: "First is first and second is last." (Or was that coined by
the current USC men's swim coach?)
— Bill Bell