No. 7 Cal women’s water polo suffers heavy defeat to rival, No. 3 Stanford

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The look of pure frustration on freshman goalkeeper Madison Tagg’s face was undeniable. She had just made a brilliant save of an outside shot, but the rebound fell directly into the hands of Stanford two-meter defender Anna Yelizarova. In a split second, the ball was in the back of the net, and Yelizarova had given neither her defender nor Tagg any time to react.

Stanford had taken a seven-goal lead over Cal, but the frustration on Tagg’s face was not a result of being blown out by a bitter rival, but rather the way in which the beatdown occurred. Not only was Cal on the wrong side of every rebound, but it was also thoroughly outplayed on both ends of the pool by a Cardinal team looking for revenge. No. 3 Stanford did indeed get its vengeance for a loss earlier this season with a 13-5 trouncing of the No. 7 Bears on Saturday in Palo Alto.

With the exception of a brief segment of the second quarter, Saturday’s game could best be described as a complete domination. The Cardinal stormed out of the gates, taking a 4-0 lead after one quarter. Admittedly, two of these goals came from lucky rebounds, but a third was a powerful goal from center.  Stanford went 3-for-3 on powerplay opportunities in the quarter, taking apart Cal’s five-man defense with crisp passing until an open shot could be taken.

But the high efficiency on powerplay opportunities did not end after one quarter. The Cardinal finished a remarkable 7-for-9 on 6-on-5 opportunities, and it was clear the Bears were outmatched on defense.

“Our five-man has been as good if not better than our defense. And it just fell apart. Flat-out fell apart. We were scrambling out there. It’s atypical of us,” said Cal head coach Richard Corso. “They scored fastbreak goals on us — no one has scored fastbreak goals on us all year long — we had a breakdown on the counterattack, on our five-man, in the frontcourt defense and goals out of set.”

On the other end of the pool, the Bears had a small stint of strong play at the start of the second quarter, but their offense lacked energy for most of the rest of the game. Their offensive success came from their defense, which shifted to a half-tank press to start the quarter. Consecutive stops led to goals in transition, which cut Stanford’s lead in half. The Cardinal scored again to make it 5-2, but Cal answered right back, taking a 5-3 deficit into halftime.

In the third quarter, however, Cal was unable to continue any of its minimal second quarter successes. The Bears managed to score on two powerplays, but during most possessions, errant passes allowed the Stanford defense to get back into position and make stops. The Cardinal blew the game open, scoring six goals to Cal’s two, and all hopes of a comeback were shattered.

“The big stat of the game was this: In the third, they scored six goals on us. A few weeks ago, they scored two in 32 minutes,” Corso said. “It was just one of those days. It wasn’t a tactical or a technical area, they were just being more aggressive.”