Pieces in place for men’s water polo to contend for national title

Sept. 5, 2015, 1:47 a.m.

Coming off its second consecutive third-place finish at the NCAA tournament, its highest win total since 1994, and its first MPSF Championship win since 2004, the Stanford men’s water polo team has many reasons to be optimistic about the upcoming season.

However, even though the team closed out last season with an impressive 26-4 record, the disappointment of losing a spot in the NCAA championship game in sudden death overtime to USC — a team it had beat earlier that fall — is what the squad had to take away from the season.

Senior driver Bret Bonnani (KAREN AMBROSE HICKEY/stanfordphoto.com)
Senior driver Bret Bonnani will anchor the Cardinal offense after scoring 96 goals last season. He needs only 66 more to set the MPSF all-time scoring record. (KAREN AMBROSE HICKEY/stanfordphoto.com)

The loss to the Trojans kept Stanford out of the championship game, prolonging the program’s championship drought for 12 years. This is the longest period the team has gone without winning a national championship, the second longest lasting only seven years.

This year the team sits at the number four spot on the Varsity Preseason Top 20 poll with 87 points. Defending national champion UCLA tops the poll with 99 points, followed closely by USC and Cal with 93 and 90 points, respectively.

Even with three very strong teams ahead of it, the 2015 team, composed of strong veterans and fresh talent, could be the team that breaks the dry spell to bring home Stanford men’s water polo’s 11th NCAA championship.

Stanford is returning four of its top five scorers from last season, including senior Bret Bonanni, who will look to set a new MPSF all-time scoring record. Bonanni needs 66 goals to pass former Cardinal Tony Azevedo ’04, whose record stands at 332. He is also the only player in program history to record two 90-goal seasons.

Bonnani will be joined by a host of other offensive threats in senior BJ Churnside, redshirt junior Adam Abdulhamid and sophomore Cody Smith. The four players alone scored 48 percent of the 453 goals tallied last season.

Out of the three players who graduated, Alex Bowen will be the hardest player to replace. Bowen was the Cardinal’s second-best scorer last season, notching 65 goals and 19 multi-goal games. However, the few losses are more than made up for by the plethora of returning talent.

On the defensive end, the team shouldn’t be too far removed from the 2014 squad that was second in the MPSF in goals allowed per game. Junior goalkeeper Drew Holland looks to pick up where he left off last season; in each of his last four games, he marked 10 saves or more.

Stanford will perhaps get an NCAA tournament preview during the Nor Cal Stanford Invitational on Sept. 19 and 20. Although the matchups have yet to be decided, it’s likely Stanford will face UCLA, USC or Cal at some point that weekend.

For now, The Cardinal will kick off their season on Sept. 5 at the Bruno Classic against No. 19 MIT. The competition will continue through Sunday afternoon. Stanford is scheduled to play Harvard, No. 19 Bucknell, No. 17 St. Francis and No. 11 Brown.

With a slew of ranked opponents testing it early on, the team will get to work right away and hopefully develop a solid rhythm as the formidable opponents get closer. With the strong presence of returning talent, Stanford should hopefully have all that it needs to once again make a serious run at a national championship.

Contact Laura Stickells at lauraczs ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Laura Stickells is one of the Managing Editors of Sports at The Stanford Daily. Growing up in the small, rural town of Bishop, California, Laura captained the powderpuff football team and became particularly adept at driving heavy equipment in her later years, a skill that helped her find a position as an intern at NBC Sports this summer working on Olympic coverage. In her spare time, Laura competes on the Stanford Equestrian Team. She also writes football better than the boys. Laura is a sophomore majoring in communications and can be reached at lauraczs 'at' stanford.edu.

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