In a day that saw several Stanford teams triumph over their USC counterparts, the men’s water polo game may have been the most surprising of all the victories. Stanford put in a strong defensive effort en route to a tough 5-3 win.
No. 1 USC (15-1, 1-1 MPSF) was in the midst of an 18-game winning streak, and had won its previous 17 games against the Cardinal, dating back to 2005. The No. 6 Cardinal (7-5, 1-0), on the other hand, had been enduring a slide, losing four of its last six after four straight wins to start the season. Two of those losses came against rival California, which knocked the Card out of both the NorCal and SoCal Tournaments.
One thing the Cardinal did have going for it, which seemed to give the squad added energy and motivation, was home-pool advantage. Having an electric atmosphere against a marquee opponent like the Trojans set the stage for the upset at Avery Aquatic Center on Saturday afternoon.
The unquestioned star of the match for the Cardinal was redshirt junior goalkeeper Brian Pingree. In consort with an excellent effort by the defense as a whole, Pingree managed to hold the Trojan attack, vaunted for its scoring proficiency, to a paltry three goals, well below its Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF)-leading average of 15 goals per game. Pingree finished with 14 saves.
On the offensive side of the pool, senior driver Jeffrey Schwimer paced the Cardinal with two goals while sophomore driver Paul Rudolph, senior driver Sage Wright and junior utility Peter Sefton each added a goal to the Cardinal’s tally.
For the visiting Trojans, senior goalie Joel Dennerley had four saves while sophomore Mace Rapsey scored two goals and freshman Nikola Vavic had the other.
The game’s scoring was concentrated around the beginning of the match and the end, with a lull in the middle two periods. The Cardinal, courtesy of Schwimer’s first goal, opened up the scoring at the 5:33 mark in the first period. Six sturdy saves by Pingree stifled the USC offense for most of the first period, and Stanford doubled its lead at the 2:38 mark in the period when Sefton hammered home his goal.
The Trojans responded quickly thereafter with Vavic scoring their first goal at the 1:07 mark in the first period. After that point though, they could not penetrate the stingy Stanford defense again until the fourth period, when the game was starting to get out of reach.
The fourth period opened with Stanford leading 4-1, following Schwimer’s second goal in the second period and Rudolph’s tally at the end of the third. USC mounted a brief charge at the beginning of the final period, right after Wright put the Cardinal up 5-1 just 1:39 into the fourth. Rapsey responded with a goal of his own, doubling the Trojan’s score 15 seconds after Wright’s goal, and sent tremors of an impending comeback through the crowd at Avery.
However, Pingree and the Cardinal defense remained steadfast, allowing only one more goal, scored again by Rapsey, when the game was essentially already out of reach with 1:43 left.
Befitting the stellar game he played, the contest ended with a penalty-shot save by Pingree, cementing the upset.
For his efforts, Pingree was named MPSF Mikasa player of the week.
Stanford will hit the road for its next two MPSF contests, going to UCLA on Friday and UC-Santa Barbara on Sunday. The Card will take on the Bruins at 7 p.m. and the Gauchos at 12 p.m.