For the majority of the second half on Sunday evening at the Avery Aquatic Center, it looked like the No. 4 Stanford men’s water polo team (8-1) would come from behind to take the championship game of the Kap7 NorCal Invitational from No. 1 UCLA (9-0). Unfortunately, the comeback fell just short.
Following a UCLA goal, putting the Bruins up 6-3 with 4:51 remaining in the third quarter, Stanford head coach John Vargas called a critical timeout.
“We just came in and said, ‘Guys, there is a lot of game left to play. Just focus on one possession at a time,’” said assistant coach Jonathan Barnea after the game.
The pep talk worked, and the Cardinal came back to tie up the game in less than two minutes. A goal from senior Bret Bonanni was followed 44 seconds later by a goal from sophomore Mitchell Mendoza. Forty five seconds after that, Bonanni squared up the game at 6-6.
The Bruins pulled away again with a goal at the end of the third quarter from Team USA member Ryder Roberts. A goal by UCLA’s Chancellor Ramirez with 4:52 left in the fourth quarter expanded the Bruins lead to 8-6.
With 2:27 left in the fourth quarter, UCLA goalkeeper Garrett Danner blocked a Bonanni penalty shot, which ultimately became a critical miss for the Cardinal, although Bonanni later scored with 48 seconds on the clock to bring the score to 8-7. With a Stanford penalty with 19 seconds left in the game, the Bruins were able to control the ball to bring in the win.
Although the tournament culminated in a disappointing loss, it’s impossible not to notice the overwhelming strength in the Cardinal’s defense.
The Cardinal began the weekend with a shutout of Santa Clara led by second-string sophomore goalkeeper Oliver Lewis.
“Any time you are able to shut a team out, the goalie for sure is going to come up with a couple great saves, but that’s a team effort at the defensive end of the pool,” said Barnea.
Additionally, the Cardinal held both No. 7 Long Beach State and No. 2 USC scoreless until half.
Although Bonanni led the team with three goals against UCLA, he wasn’t as dominant in this tournament as he was in the Cardinal’s debut at the Bruno Classic from Sept. 5-6 in Cambridge, MA and Providence, RI.
“Teams are clearly focused on Brett being a good goal scorer, and they’re scheming defensively to get the ball out of his hand,” Barnea added.
Other members on the team were able to step up in response to the strong defense on Bonanni, including Mendoza, who led the team in the 6-5 victory over USC in the semifinal game with a hat trick.
“It was a great team effort all weekend long, there wasn’t one guy that put the team on his back and said ‘here we go,’” Barnea said. “It was really everyone playing their part, doing their roles, and having a good weekend.”
The Cardinal will continue play next weekend at the Aggie Shootout in Davis, California. Stanford is scheduled to start the tournament against Concordia University of California at noon on Saturday, Sept. 26, followed by UC Davis, Santa Clara and San Jose State.
Contact Laura Stickells at lauraczs ‘at’ stanford.edu.