Last weekend had its ups and downs for the No. 4 Cardinal men’s water polo team (15-4, 0-2 MPSF), which competed in two home games. On Saturday, Stanford lost to No. 3 USC (14-1, 1-1 MPSF) 15-11, but on Sunday, the Cardinal rebounded to win 17-7 versus No. 14 UC Irvine (7-10, 0-2 GCC).
The game against USC was especially important for the Cardinal, given the long-standing rivalry between the programs and the fact that Stanford only narrowly fell to the Trojans, 15-13, under a month ago. On top of that, the Cardinal are yet to claim their first conference win. Naturally, tensions were high during the game, with coaches on both sides yelling.
Saturday was Stanford’s chance to right the ship in the MPSF, but the Cardinal ultimately failed to go the distance for all four periods. Things started out well; 65º Fahrenheit and partly cloudy, the two teams traded goals for the first half, and the Cardinal went into the break with a 6-5 lead.
The tight-matched game persisted into the third quarter, which saw five goals for each team — but momentum changed in the final period.
USC broke ahead and did not look back, scoring five goals in the final period. Meanwhile, the Cardinal did not find the back of the net once. USC ultimately won 15-11.
“We gave up a lot of easy opportunities to the other team,” sophomore goalie Nolan Krutonog said of the fourth quarter. “We definitely could have done a better job defensively, especially in the counterattack.”
One notable absence, which head coach John Vargas called “unfortunate,” was senior driver Quinn Woodhead. The Marin County native — who led the team in goals coming into the weekend — missed both the USC and UC Irvine games for undisclosed reasons, but was on the pool deck to cheer the team on.
Despite the gap in score, Stanford actually outshot the Trojans 38-to-34, but USC’s impressive shooting percentage, .441, proved to be the difference. The Trojan goalie, Nic Porter, also saved an impressive 58% of shots on the opposite end to stall the Cardinal’s chances.
“I am happy with the way our boys battled,” Vargas said after the USC game.
Graduate student driver Tyler Abramson and redshirt sophomore driver Walker Seymour scored three apiece on Saturday, leading the team in goals.
Just 23 hours later, the Cardinal took the pool again — this time facing UC Irvine. Unlike the day before, the weather was unusually rainy and cold at Stanford. Following the previous afternoon’s theme, the teams were initially evenly matched, trading goals in the first half. Entering halftime, the score was 5-4 in the Cardinal’s favor.
But the second half was a different story for the Cardinal. Seymour kicked off scoring in the third quarter, opening the floodgates for Stanford, which then went on a 6-1 scoring run. By the end of the third period, the Cardinal had a comfortable 12-5 lead.
The Cardinal continued this dominance both offensively and defensively into the fourth quarter, winning 17-7.
Abramson was again impressive, accounting for four goals and one assist to lead the team in scoring.
Next up, Stanford will play No. 6 University of the Pacific at home on Sunday at 1 p.m. PT.