November Stanford sports roundup

They've played the out-of-conference cupcakes. They've played the rivalry games and their strongest foes in conference. Now, it's time for the playoffs, a chance for seasons and legends to be made.

Housekeeping: Have to draw the line somewhere, so we're looking at Directors' Cup sports only. We're also looking at in-season sports only, so while tennis or softball have some fall events, they're going to have to wait until spring for their moment in the sun.

Men's cross country - For the men and women alike, Monday brings the NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Ind. Go Stanford has a good preview to get you into the mood, but here's our take. The men enter the Finals a somewhat disappointing No. 5 after just barely finishing runners-up to Colorado at the Pac-12 Championships. Stanford's four fastest finished in the top-12 overall, but the fifth man across the finish line was 23rd, as some veterans had disappointing days, giving Colorado the win. The men did rally to win the NCAA West Regionals though. Wisconsin, Oklahoma State, BYU and Oklahoma are No. 1 through No. 4 heading into Monday.

Women's cross country - It hasn't been a dominant season for the women either, as the perennial national title contenders rank just No. 13 overall, with Florida State, Villanova and Washington the top three teams in the polls. At the Pac-12 Championships, the women finished a disappointing third, though they were within striking distance of champ Colorado and runners-up Washington. At the NCAA Regionals, the women also could do no better than third, and thus needed an at-large bid to make the NCAA Finals. But, as always, should the rabbit emerge from the hat Monday (and run a sufficiently fast 5K), a lukewarm season could finish red-hot.

Field hockey - The women finished one of its best-ever seasons, but with an opening-round loss in the NCAA Tournament, left on the table the chance for even more. The skirts and sticks squad had scored at least three goals in their previous nine games, but were shut out in their final two, losing 1-0 to California in the conference championship, and then 5-0 to Duke in the Medium Dance. (At 16 teams, it's not quite "Big".) Still, this is a team on the rise. At 17-4 overall, Stanford tied its school record for wins, and if the upward trajectory continues, the Card should be able to notch its first NCAA Tournament win in the immediate future.

Women's soccer - Will this be No. 102? The women are undefeated at 20-0-1 and No. 1 in the country as the NCAA Tournament gets underway. After a 3-0 dispatching of Montana in the opening round, the women downed South Carolina 2-0 in the Round of 32 Friday, with Boston College looming in Sunday's Sweet 16. Wake Forest, UCLA and Florida State are other No. 1 seeds in the bracket, but first Stanford would have to get through Oklahoma State, the No. 2 in the region and perhaps the strongest two seed in the field. (Since when was T Boone Pickens U good at all these Olympic sports? Wrestling isn't until winter, guys.) The snake-bitten Cardinal have lost the last two NCAA Finals by 1-0 margins, so a 2011 title would be especially sweet.

Men's soccer - At least he went out with a bang. After finishing a disappointing 6-10-2 season, Coach Bret Simon resigned this past week. Under Simon, the Cardinal made the College Cup, soccer's Final Four, in his first two seasons, 2001 and 2002. Stanford, however, would make the NCAA Tournament only once more in the subsequent nine years, in 2009. The Cardinal sent Simon off a victor though, winning 3-0 in Berkeley in the season finale.

Women's volleyball - The No. 5 women stood 20-5 heading into a weekend series with the Oregon schools. The losses are all quality: to UCLA twice, Cal, USC and, most recently, a five-setter at Washington. Meanwhile, the resume includes several quality wins, with notches on the belt including top Pac-12 teams and early-season victims Penn State and Florida. Cal is next weekend, with the NCAA Tournament to follow. Given that there are only two seniors on the squad, the No. 5 Cardinal could be better yet in the years to come.

Men's water polo - By the time many of you read this, No. 3 Cal and No. 4 Stanford will have finished each of their regular seasons at Saturday afternoon's Big Splash at the Avery Aquatic Center. Whatever this weekend's result, next weekend's MPSF Championship will be key. Win the event and there's an auto-berth into the NCAA Finals at Berkeley or show well and there's hope for an at-large berth. Show poorly, however, and in a sport which takes only four postseason participants, the season's over.

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