The No. 5 Stanford men’s water polo team (13-6, 5-2 MPSF) will head up to Berkeley on Friday evening to take on No. 1 California (20-2, 7-0) in the annual Big Splash.
Cal, the top team in the nation since Stanford knocked off then-No. 1 USC on Oct. 9, is coming off a strong win over Pacific on Saturday—the same Pacific team that defeated the Cardinal on Sunday. The Golden Bears have won an impressive 12 straight games, including a victory over two-time defending NCAA champion USC, with their last loss coming on Oct. 2 to UC-Irvine.
The Bears have already defeated Stanford twice this year, both closely contested affairs that took place in the opening weeks of the season. Thanks to the defeat of Pacific and the Tigers’ subsequent victory over Stanford this past weekend, Cal has already secured the No. 1 seed at next week’s Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) Tournament, which will take place at Stanford’s Avery Aquatic Center.
Cal’s best player, and quite possibly the best player in the country, is junior attacker Ivan Rackov. Rackov has compiled an impressive résumé this season that includes 63 goals in 21 matches, for an MPSF-leading per-game average of 3.00 goals. He also is the only player in the conference to win the MPSF player of the week award twice this season.
On defense, the Golden Bears are anchored by sophomore goalie Justin Parsons, who has recorded 140 saves.
The Cardinal had its weekend turn sour on the hinge of a closely contested call late in last Sunday’s game versus Pacific. What appeared to be a clean steal by Stanford —a change of possession that seemed sure to result in the game’s tying goal—was called back as a defensive foul. The resulting loss dropped Stanford slightly in the national rankings, from No. 4 to No. 5, and cost the team a chance at gaining a share of the MPSF regular season crown with a win over Berkeley on Friday.
Just as Rackov has paced Cal’s scoring for the season, so has junior driver Jacob Smith for Stanford. While he trails Rackov, Smith’s goals-per-game average of 2.42 is good for third in the country. On defense, redshirt junior goalie Brian Pingree leads the squad and barely trails Parsons with 138 saves.
The Cardinal can gain a share of second place in the MPSF standings, with UCLA, should it defeat the Golden Bears on Friday. A loss could drop Stanford as far as fifth in the MPSF standings.
The Big Splash is slated to begin on Friday at 6 p.m. in Berkeley.