Duarte Scores Four For #8 Water Polo, But #2 Stanford Advances In NCAA Quarters

Pacific packed the 2-meter with defenders (photo by Justin Casterline)
Pacific packed the 2-meter with defenders (photo by Justin Casterline)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - A new defense slowed the Cardinal, but the No. 8 Pacific women's water polo team was out-raced by No. 2 Stanford as the Cardinal scored eight times in transition for a 13-6 win in the NCAA Championship Quarterfinals at IU Natatorium Friday.

Freshman Mariana Duarte scored four times for Pacific, tying her career best. Kyra Christmas and Rachel Krieger each added goals for the Tigers. Christmas added four assists Alexis Hollinrake made nine saves, while Samantha Pfaff made one in the final 1:38 of the game. The Tigers defense posted six field blocks.

Pacific wraps its season at 21-9, while Stanford will face either Southern Cal or Michigan in the semis. The Cardinal have made the semifinals in all 17 NCAA Championships in women's water polo.

The Tigers turned to a new defensive scheme, packing the two-meter with defenders in an effort to frustrate the Cardinal shooters. Pacific shutdown the Stanford offensive sets, as the Tigers held Stanford to 5-of-22 shooting with seven turnovers on 29 possessions in which the Tigers defense set-up. But the Cardinal converted eight of 13 transition opportunities, with one turnover and 12 shots. The Tigers recorded six field blocks on the day, with Christmas and Duarte each posting two, while Aelish Guinn and Karolina Hlavata each added one.

"Before this game started, we had a decision to make," head coach James Graham said. "Were we going to try and play them conventionally, or are were going to try something creative. The team was very bold. Everyone decided we were going to be innovative. Innovation is one of the hallmarks of what we do here at Pacific. As a team, we decided we're going to take a risk and play a defense that most people don't ever see. And they made huge stops, and the team celebrated each of those stops for the battle that it was on each possession. We packed back the defense and used our mobility and creativity to slow down Stanford's offense."

Stanford was averaging 17.8 goals per game against non-Pac 12 institutions, but the new defense, installed on Thursday by the Tigers, limited most of Stanford's attack to transition.

Madison Berggren scored first for Stanford in transition from the wing with 6:17 to go in the first. On the next Cardinal possession, Maggie Steffens tallied for a 2-0 lead. But Duarte answer from four meters out with a skip shot to cut the lead in half with 5:19 to go in the first. Hollinrake lunged to keep a shot from the far post out, and Christmas found Duarte after an exclusion was called, and Duarte buried the ball from the two-meter line to tie the game at 2-2 with 1:04 remaining. But Stanford scored in transition as Steffen picked up a steal and a sprint in on the keeper passed off to Kat Klass on the post for a tap-in goal.

In the second, Christmas accepted a pass out of the center from Krieger, and floated a lob shot into the far panel to tie the game at 3-3 on Pacific's first possession of the period.  But Makenzie Fischer answered right back from three meters out.  Off a turnover, the Cardinal worked a 3-on-2 for a goal and a 5-3 lead as Berggren finished with 5:41 left. The Cardinal picked up another goal in transition, as Fischer finished to the far side off an offensive foul call. Another counter-attack goal by Fischer stretched Stanford's lead to 7-3.

Duarte skipped home a power-play goal to close within 7-4, tucking it inside the near post. But once again, Stanford picked up possession and scored on the counter-attack as Steffens tallied one-on-one with the keeper. Duarte ripped home another set-up from Christmas, and the Tigers pack-defense fended off three chances from the Cardinal to head into the half down 8-5.

Fischer shot quickly into Stanford's first possession for a 9-5 lead. Hollinrake made a save on a Stanford 2-on-1, but the rebound was pushed in by Steffens for a 10-5 Cardinal lead with 5:50 to go in the third.

Krieger scored from center off an entry from Christmas, as she turned and hit the far post to close within 10-6. Stanford finally broke through the Pacific pack defense as Dani Jackovich scored from just outside the two-meter off a flurry of quick passes to restore a five-goal lead.

Shannon Cleary snuck a shot through the arms of the defense for a 12-6 lead with 5:00 to go in the fourth. And the Cardinal tacked on a transition goal from Jamie Neushel with 4:24 to go in the game.

On a Stanford timeout with 1:38 to go in the game, Pfaff entered and posted one save.

Duarte's four-goal game gave her 45 goals in her freshman campaign, while Christmas tallied her 59th and Krieger her 46th of the year.  Christmas finished the season with 102 points on 60 goals and 42 assists. She also won all four sprints for the Tigers against Stanford Friday.

All four of Duarte's goals were assisted by Christmas.

"Playing with [Kyra] is awesome," Duarte said. "We've learned to play together this season, and it's really awesome because I'm learning a lot of water polo with her and we're creating a style together. My experience in my first NCAA Championship was amazing. I can't wait to play three more seasons with this team. And I think we're going to do great things, and I expect [the NCAA Championships] to see more of our team,"

"We're excited to have such dynamic young players like Mariana and Kyra and all our players coming to Pacific from all over," Graham added. "Our freshman class is really good and we'll be hosting the NCAA Championships in Stockton their senior year, so we'll see how we can build upon this as a program year by year for when it's in our home pool."

The Tigers finish tied with the second-most wins in program history, at 21, but the best win percentage (.700) and most hardware in program history with Pacific's first ever conference tournament title and NCAA appearance.