The No. 3 Stanford men’s water polo team was doomed by another slow start this Saturday against No. 2 USC in Los Angeles. The final score was 8-4, but after falling behind 3-0 in the first quarter and 5-1 at halftime, Stanford (14-4, 3-2 MPSF) was never really in the game.
Falling behind early has become a troubling trend for the Cardinal, which had taken two-goal deficits into halftime in each of its previous three Mou
ntain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) games. In each of those games, Stanford tied the score in the second half, and the Cardinal eventually went on to win two of them.
USC (15-2, 5-0 MPSF) proved too tough to come back on, though, as the Trojans pounced early and did not let the Cardinal back into the game.
“We had opportunities to convert early, but we didn’t, and we fell into a hole,” said senior utility Peter Sefton.
Part of Stanford’s inability to convert had to do with USC goalie Joel Dennerly, who finished the day with 14 saves. He leads a USC defense that tops the MPSF in total goals against and goals against per game.
Freshman utility Alex Bowen was the only Stanford player with any real success against that defense. He finished the game with three goals, while Sefton accounted for the fourth. The four-goal output was the lowest of the season for Stanford.
Stanford was even with USC in the second half, as each team scored three goals, but that is little consolation for a team that wants to knock off the defending champion Trojans.
Stanford now falls into fourth place in the MPSF standings, while USC will remain in first place with an undefeated conference record. Also ahead of Stanford in the standings are No. 1 UCLA and No. 4 California, each of which has one conference loss and three losses overall.
While USC seems to be running away from the pack, there is not much space between the next three teams. In order to make the four-team NCAA Tournament and have a chance at the national championship, Stanford has to either win the MPSF Tournament or receive the one at-large bid.
“USC is clearly the favorite, but if they win the MPSF Tournament, the at-large bid is up for grabs,” Sefton said.
Stanford has a chance to bolster its resume when it plays Cal in its regular season finale. The team can also expect to face two of the top four teams in the MPSF Tournament.
None of the top four nationally ranked teams (UCLA, USC, Stanford and California) has lost to a team ranked fifth or worse. With that in mind, Stanford knows it cannot lose any games against lower-ranked teams if it wants to have a chance at the at-large bid.
“We just have to get re-focused and ready for the last couple of weeks of the season,” Sefton said. “We will get another chance against all these guys in the MPSF Tournament.”
Stanford will be making another trip to Southern California this weekend, this time to face off against Long Beach State and UC-Irvine. The Cardinal scrimmaged both MPSF teams earlier in the year, but these will be the first official games against either team—Stanford’s match against Long Beach is scheduled for noon on Saturday.