M. Water Polo: Uphill battle to playoffs begins now

Oct. 26, 2012, 1:08 a.m.

Last weekend, Stanford took part in three blowout games. In each of these matchups, a team scored at least 14 goals. The problem is that Stanford was on the losing end of one of those poundings, a 14-8 conference loss at No.7 UC-Berkeley.

M. Water Polo: Uphill battle to playoffs begins now
Junior Travis Noll (12) and the men’s water polo team needs to defeat UC-Irvine and Long Beach State to avoid treading water in MPSF title race (LARRY GE/The Stanford Daily).

The loss dropped Stanford (8-4, 2-2 MPSF) to fourth place in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation and leaves them with an uphill battle to get to the NCAA tournament. They play two more MPSF teams this weekend, and while both opponents are winless in the conference, the Cardinal cannot afford another slipup.

“We just have to win almost every game from here on out. So it’s kind of a lot of pressure,” freshman driver Bret Bonanni said.

Stanford was bombarded with six goals from the MPSF’s third-leading scorer, driver Collin Smith, in that loss to Cal. This week will provide another test, when the fifth and sixth leading scorers in the conference come to Palo Alto wearing the gold and blue of No. 6 UC-Irvine.

Saturday’s game against UC-Irvine will be closely followed by a matchup against No. 10 Long Beach State on Sunday. Both games will start at noon and take place at Avery Aquatic Center.

Irvine comes into this game in a very similar position as Cal’s last Saturday, including being 0-2 in the MPSF. The major difference between the two is that Irvine’s losses have come against middle-of-the-road teams, while Cal had fallen to the nation’s two best teams.

Irvine is in the midst of a tough streak, having lost four out of their last six games, including their first two conference games of the season. Much of that can be attributed to the team’s conference-worst defense, which is allowing 8.74 goals per game. In each of their last four losses, they have allowed at least 10 goals.

Stanford’s defense is in need of a pick-me-up as well, after giving up a season-high 14 goals to Cal last weekend. The goals seemingly came from every distance or angle in the pool, making it impossible to place the blame on a single area or person.

When asked what the team was focusing on this week, freshman driver Brett Bonanni noted that it was clear they needed “just better defense.”

His teammates, likewise, were unable to pinpoint any more specialized areas that needed more work than others, preferring to note that their problems encompassed the entirety of the defensive effort.

“Defensively, we’ve worked on shutting other teams down,” redshirt junior driver Ian Gamble said.

Gamble added that the team prides itself on not mulling over the previous game.

“You’re only as good as your next game,” he said.

That mantra was never so apparent as it was last weekend, when Stanford won their Sunday doubleheader by a total of 28 goals to five.

That level of domination is less likely to repeat itself this weekend though. Any conference foe, regardless of its place in the standings, is usually a more meaningful test than any of the visiting East Coast teams the Cardinal was able to rack up goals against on Sunday.

Long Beach State is an example of that. They have compiled an impressive 18-4 record, although none of their wins and three of their losses have come against MPSF teams.

Irvine, on the other hand, has already defeated Cal this season. They have also lost to some top MPSF teams, and they will get a major test this Thursday against No.1 USC before visiting Stanford.

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