Women’s Water Polo: Stanford Rallies Past USC to Become Winningest Program Ever

In a tight matchup that saw USC take a 4-3 halftime lead and tie the game at 7-7 during the final period, top-seeded Stanford pulled away late to secure a 10-7 victory during Sunday’s thrilling national championship in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

With their eighth national title, the Cardinal (25-2) became most decorated program in women’s college water polo history, breaking a tie with UCLA (seven). The Trojans (20-4), winners of six national championships, were seeking back-to-back titles for the first time in school history. One of those three powerhouse programs have been crowned national champion every year since women’s water polo became an NCAA sport in 2001.

Makenzie Fischer led Stanford with four goals while Ryan Neushul added a hat-trick with three. Chloe Harbilas, Sophie Wallace and Jewel Roemer also found the back of the net for the Cardinal. 

USC’s Mireia Guiral scored the first two goals of the day to help the Trojans take an early lead less than a minute into the match. USC goalie Carolyne Stern had a career day with 13 saves, helping the Trojans hang on to that early lead until the second half. A 3-for-3 start on the power play was also instrumental in USC holding a 3-2 edge after the first period and 4-3 lead at half. 

It was only a matter of time before Stanford’s offense came roaring back. The Cardinal scored the first two goals of the third period to go ahead for the first time all afternoon, but the Trojans weren’t done yet.

After Stanford took a 6-5 lead entering the fourth period, NCAA All-Tournament First Team selection Tilly Kearns responded with a pair of game-tying goals for USC to even the score at 7-7. That would be the last of the Trojans’ scoring, though, as a six-minute drought in crunch time spoiled their hopes of a comeback. After four minutes of scoreless action following Kearns’ equalizer, the Cardinal went back up for good on a goal by Roemer. Makenzie Fischer and Neushul each chipped in a goal in the final two minutes to seal the 10-7 win. 

Sunday marked the last match and third national crown for Makenzie Fischer, Stanford’s all-time leading goal scorer, as the sixth-year senior is set to retire from competitive water polo on a high note at the age of 25. Her sister, Aria, will play her final season for the Cardinal next year. 

Eight ties and lead changes total in the second half highlighted a back-and-forth finish. Stanford goalie Maya Avital stepped up down the stretch, saving nine shots. The Cardinal ended their season with 11 wins in a row, limiting opponents to single-digit scoring throughout that streak thanks to a stifling defense. Their only defeats this year came against USC, a program that has now faced Stanford seven times for the national title. The Cardinal improved to 3-4 in those matchups.

The national championship is Stanford’s second in the 2021-22 academic year after its men’s gymnastics team took home an NCAA title last month. Among active Cardinal coaches, women’s water polo coach John Tanner trails only women’s tennis coach Lele Forood (10 titles) with his eight rings. 

NCAA Championship box score

[2] USC vs. [1] Stanford

May 8, 2022 | Canham Natatorium (Ann Arbor, Michigan)

USC    3  – 1 – 1 – 2 = 7

STAN    2 – 1 – 3 – 4 = 10

Scoring:

USC — Mireia Guiral 2, Tilly Kearns 2, Alejandra Aznar, Paige Hauschild, Honnie Vandeweghe-O’Shea.

STAN — Makenzie Fischer 4, Ryann Neushul 3, Chloe Harbilas, Sophie Wallace, Jewel Roemer.

Saves: Carolyne Stern (USC) 13, Maya Avital (STAN) 9.

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tnp101
9 days ago

Congratulations Stanford! What a game it was! Amazing plays and amazing students athletes indeed!