By Jeremy Rubin
For the third straight year, men’s water polo is the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) conference champion.
No. 3 Stanford (6-3, 3-3 MPSF) toppled No. 1 Cal (8-4, 7-3 MPSF) in the finals on Sunday, 9-8. Junior 2MD AJ Rossman and sophomore driver Larsen Weigle finished with two goals apiece to pace the Cardinal.
After falling behind 4-1 in the opening period, Stanford went on a 6-0 run bookended by the pair of goals from Weigle in the second and the majority of the third quarter. Rossman, redshirt junior Parker Killion, redshirt freshman utility Troy Gleason and sophomore 2M Andrew Churukian all also chipped into the scoring run which turned the three-goal deficit into a 7-4 advantage with just under ten minutes left to play in the game.
The Cardinal and Golden Bears traded goals over the next three minutes, as freshman driver Ethan Parrish and Rossman each scored to maintain Stanford’s 9-6 advantage with seven minutes left in the fourth.
A Cal goal a minute and a half later cut Stanford’s lead to two, but redshirt senior goalkeeper Andrew Chun shut the door on any chance of a late rally, allowing just a single goal in the last five and a half minutes of play to preserve the lead. Chun finished the match with 13 saves compared to eight goals allowed.
The Cardinal defense also stifled Cal’s Nikolaos Papanikolaou, the 2021 MPSF Player of the Year, holding him scoreless on four attempts.
Entering the matchup, the two teams were 1-1 against each other this season. Stanford dropped the first contest between them on Feb. 7 16-11 but rebounded for a 17-10 win two weeks later on Feb. 21.
A 13-0 victory against Penn State-Behrend to open up the weekend tournament ensured another rematch for the Cardinal in the semifinals against No. 2 UCLA, a team that had beaten Stanford twice previously this season. However, eight saves from Chun and two goals each from Rossman, senior driver Tyler Abramson and junior driver Quinn Woodhead led Stanford to a 11-8 victory and set up the finals matchup against Cal.
Next up for the Cardinal is the NCAA Tournament, where the team will look to defend its 2019 title.