Young core leads top-ranked men’s water polo

Sept. 17, 2014, 1:25 a.m.

As Stanford men’s water polo begins another season, it has something to fight for. After claiming third place in last year’s NCAA tournament, the Cardinal will be looking to regain the top spot. Though the Card haven’t made an appearance in the championship match since a 2008 loss to USC or claimed a title of their own since 2002, this may just be their year.

Senior Alex Bowen is the lone fourth-year senior on a team loaded with freshmen that is ranked No. 1 in the nation and primed to make a national title run this season. (HECTOR GARCIA-MOLINA/

Coming off an impressive 23-6 season and armed with a talented young squad, Stanford starts this campaign ranked first in the NCAA. The USC Trojans, who have claimed the past six national titles, come in at a close second. The teams’ first regular season head-to-head isn’t until Oct. 18.

A midseason home game bodes well for the Cardinal — an Oct. 19 home game against UCLA last season prompted an 11-game win streak that included an overtime victory against USC. Stanford is also a very powerful home team: Last season, they boasted a 9-1 record when playing in their own pool.

Hoping to continue the home dominance is this year’s remarkably young team. The squad is comprised of eight freshmen and four additional redshirt freshmen. This type of youth allows the coaching staff substantial flexibility, with many new playing styles coming to the team. It also creates a competitive environment as everyone tries to earn his time in the water.

The team is not without upperclassmen leadership, however. Two juniors — B.J. Chumside and Bret Bonanni — flank lone fourth-year senior Alex Bowen. The three create a formidable offensive threat; they were the top three scorers on the team last year, combining for an astounding 213 goals and 40 hat tricks. The combination of experience and skill gives this Cardinal team an especially powerful core.

No top-ranked team is complete without an airtight defense. Returning sophomore Drew Holland checks in with the most experience of the three-man goalkeeping team this year. Joined by freshman Oliver Lewis and redshirt sophomore Sam Sunde, Holland will look to keep up the stellar defense of last season.

The trio will be working to replace the hole left by Scott Platshon, a senior last year who averaged nine saves a game, including four in last season’s NorCal Invitational victory. The young goalkeeping rotation is not without any experience, however. Holland rose to become the team’s number-one goalkeeper last year, recording impressive performances against top teams such as UCLA and USC. He notched 13 saves in Stanford’s overtime win against the Trojans.

An early opportunity to show their skills came at this past weekend’s Inland Empire tournament. Stanford came out and proved it deserved the top ranking, as a 21-5 thrashing of No. 23 Pomona-Pitzer certainly demonstrated. Freshman Cody Smith was the game’s leading scorer with five goals, but the wealth was spread wide yet again. Nine different players found the back of the cage — seven of them at least twice.

All three goalkeepers made an appearance, each recording at least one save. The Cardinal showed poise and endurance, scoring six goals in each of the first three quarters. The variety of scorers also bodes well for the future of the Cardinal, as threat diversity will be a crucial attribute of this Stanford team when facing top teams. Another promising sign was the two goals apiece from redshirt freshmen Davis Clute and Sam Pfeil; for Pfeil, it was his first collegiate goal.

The fun did not stop there, though, as the Cardinal (2-0) blew past host University of Redlands 22-4. Twelve different Stanford shooters found their way to the back of the net, as the team recorded the largest variety of scorers and most goals of the season. The Cardinal jumped out to an early and insurmountable 9-0 advantage in the first period thanks to goals from Bowen, Bonanni, Adam Abdulhamid, Pfeil, Connor Stapleton, Cody Smith and Jackson Kimbell. Smith would go on to record a hat trick, boosting his season goal total to a team-leading 11, one ahead of the junior Bonanni.

Finishing the tournament undefeated, Stanford will head to Stockton for the NorCal Tournament riding a wave of momentum. Stanford took third place at last year’s NorCal event, defeating Cal in the third place game after losing an 8-7 overtime match against USC. This year, the Card will look to take it all and continue to prove that they truly are number one.

Contact Carlie Tenenbaum at carliet ‘at’

I’m Carlie Tenenbaum and I’m a sophomore. I’m from San Diego, born and raised, but love life up here on the Farm. I’m a political science major by day, and a sports writer off the clock. I cover field hockey, women’s lacrosse, and bits of both men’s and women’s water polo. I played both field hockey and lacrosse in high school and love staying connected to the sports through writing.

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