Stanford February sports roundup

It's conference championship season on the Farm, with women's swimming, wrestling and indoor track and field all competing for league titles this weekend, and the rest of the cavalry following up with their league championships in the weeks to come. Wrestling is the Cinderella story, while No. 2 women's basketball and No. 3 men's swimming represent our best shots at a national title.

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 no spring football.

Giving credit: Check out this recent Farm Report, which provides a concise update on 23 of Stanford's 35 varsity squads. We've rightfully complained over the years about historically shoddy work from Media Relations, but these Farm Reports are the latest in a long line of improvements, including football's standout YouTube presence. As a born and bred Michigan fan, I can tell you that MGoBlue is lagging next to GoStanford. Our media relations department might be firing at the highest level in the conference, if not better yet, so props to you guys. Okay, on with the show…

No. 61 men's basketball - The odds you could have gotten five years ago on football winning as many conference games as men's basketball. It won't happen, with the cagers sitting at 19-9 overall and 9-7 in the league at press time, and thus needing only a win at lowly Utah or Cal to get over the hump, but still, Stanford is on pace for the most underwhelming 20-win season of all time. 101 in the RPI is too low, but 63 in KenPom is about right. Thus, the men are indeed on the bubble, but for the wrong tournament. Then again, a last stand in Brookings, South Dakota would be a fitting end to a season that never seemed to get off the ground. Still, before Johnny Dawkins pushes his 0-fer-NCAA streak to three, there's one last shot in the Staples Center for our Cardinal to pull off four straight. Never say never…

No. 2 women's basketball - As has been the case around these parts for a while, the bar for the women is so high that next month's update will tell the tale. Coach VanDerveer, the most underrated women's coach in the country in my opinion, has built the program to a place that anything less than a Final Four berth will be a disappointment. Should the women reach the Final Four in Denver, fellow projected one seeds No. 1 Baylor, No. 3 Notre Dame and No. 4 Connecticut could await. First though, how's this for a plot twist: Stanford, which stood 25-1 overall and 16-0 in the Pac-12 at press time, could have a rematch with longtime rival Tennessee in the regional finals, should ESPN's latest mock bracket play to form. March 4 brings the season finale at Cal, and then comes the Pac-12 Tourney and NCAAs. The Ogwumikes combine for 38 points and 21 rebounds per game, but don't sleep on their defense either: they have a collective 51 blocks and 46 steals.

Fencing - The co-ed squad hosts NCAA Regionals on March 10, where they will hope to qualify for the NCAA Finals later that month at Ohio State. It's a sparse schedule for the fencers, with the Midwest Invitational on Feb. 4 and Feb. 5 the team's last competition before Regionals. At the Midwest Invitational, the men closed strong to finish 5-4 overall, while the women finished a disappointing 4-8 after losing freshman Katya Stavisky to a season-ending stress fracture. Most importantly, though, the men and women combined to qualify 18 fencers for Regionals, setting up the potential for a memorable March.

Gymnastics - The men are No. 4, but lost the season series to No. 5 California, 3-2. They have also lost to No. 1 Oklahoma, but will soon have a shot at revenge in Norman on March 3. The bottom line: the men are treading water while working though injuries and trying different gymnasts at different slots, all while incorporating different routines. The plan for the defending national champions is to keep performing at a top-10 level, but ultimately peak in April, in time for the conference and national championships.
The women, meanwhile, are a relatively low No. 12, but will have a chance to make a splash this weekend, when they visit No. 5 Utah. The good news is that they beat Cal for the 25th straight time on Feb. 12, and are about to (finally) complete a five-weekend road swing.

Swimming - Check back next month. The No. 8 women are currently competing in the Pac- 12 Championships in Washington. They came into the event hot, having won five straight dual meets, and are looking to take down their third straight Pac-12 title. Cal, USC and Arizona, all in the national Top 10, will be the toughest challenges.
The No. 3 men, meanwhile, finished their season 7-1 in dual meets, with the lone loss by eight points against No. 1 Arizona. The men closed their season with 57- and 50-point beatdowns of No. 5 USC and No. 6 Cal, respectively, and will face all those schools again starting Feb. 29 in the conference championships.

Indoor track and field - The No. 12 men will look to defend their conference title at the MPSF Championships in Seattle this weekend. Cross-country stars Chris Derrick and Miles Unterreiner should put up points in the distance events, and Michael Atchoo is the only miler in the field to have run sub-four (with the ultimate clutch performance: how's 3:59.92 for a PR). Senior Amaechi Morton is an eight time All-American and should compete for his share of sprint and hurdle titles, but he can't do it by himself. He'll need other sprinters and field specialists to step up if the men are going to make noise in Seattle, and then at the NCAA Championships in Boise on March 9.
The No. 18 women are looking for their sixth MPSF title in ten years. The squad parallels the men's in that the distance stars will shine, but there may not be enough depth the rest of the way. The women do have three top seeds in field events, plus distance stars Kathy Kroeger and Aisling Cuffe, but short- and middle-distance events will be a challenge. National No. 1 Oregon makes another conference title a longshot, but [insert your favorite sports cliché here].

Wrestling - Here lays your Cinderella story of the season. The No. 15 grapplers have 10 freshmen and just one senior on their 25-man squad, yet they finished 8-8 overall and 3-2 in the Pac- 12. Better yet, they are the highest ranked team in the conference championship field, so if No. 17 Oregon State and No. 19 Cal Poly stay in the rearview mirror, the Card could capture their first-ever conference championship. This up-and-coming program will then send its qualifying athletes to the NCAA Championships, March 15-17 in St. Louis.

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