After two big wins last weekend, the No. 5 Stanford men’s water polo team (16-6, 2-3 MPSF) seeks to get over .500 in MPSF play this weekend with games against No. 8 Long Beach State (10-11, 1-4) and No. 7 UC Irvine (11-7, 1-3).
Last weekend, Stanford beat No. 6 UC Santa Barbara 10-8 and San Jose State 17-4, ending a four game losing streak and re-establishing itself as a NCAA tournament candidate. The tournament will include the winner of the MPSF tournament, which happens at the end of November, and the next two top-ranked teams from the league. In order to keep its NCAA hopes alive, Stanford needs its momentum from its most recent wins to carry through the rest of the season, beginning with this weekend’s pair of games.
Stanford had a relatively close match against UC Santa Barbara last weekend, as the Gauchos kept within one or two goals throughout most of the game. Senior drivers Adam Abdulhamid and Bret Bonanni scored 3 and 4 goals, respectively, and junior goalkeeper Drew Holland recorded 13 saves.
While Saturday’s game was evenly-matched, the Cardinal displayed their dominance in the pool on Sunday against San Jose State, as Bonanni, sophomore Cody Smith, and freshman Kyle Weikert each recorded hat tricks in the 17-4 victory.
After his 7 goals over the weekend, Bonanni is just one goal away from tying Stanford’s all-time scoring record of 332 goals set by Tony Azevedo in the early 2000s. Azevedo is recognized as one of the best American water polo players of all time, and he was recently named the Pac-12 Men’s Water Polo Player of the Century. He has also represented the United States in every summer Olympic Games since 2000, captaining the team in 2012.
Long Beach State, on the other hand, is coming off a bittersweet weekend, as the team had a tough 15-14 double-overtime loss to No. 3 California, but later defeated Long Beach City College 12-11 in a double header. The Cardinal will have to watch out for freshman 49er Keegan Wicken, who scored a career-high 7 goals in the matchup against Cal and netted 2 goals in the victory over Pepperdine the day before.
UC Irvine lost to top-ranked UCLA last weekend in a 15-8 blowout. Though senior Jared Osborn was able to score a hat trick, his offensive skills were not enough to beat the powerful UCLA team, who is still undefeated this season.
After a season full of ups and downs, the Cardinal know that their success is not a given from here on out — in their next five regular season games or the NCAA tournament, if they make it that far.
“We know there are some things we need to improve,” assistant coach Jonathan Barnea noted. “Right now all you can do is take it one game at a time…There are a lot of big games ahead.”
The Cardinal head to Southern California this weekend, taking on Long Beach State at noon on Saturday and then traveling to Irvine to play the Anteaters a mere 24 hours later.
Contact Selby Sturzenegger at selby ‘at’ stanford.edu.