M. Water Polo: Top-ranked Trojans at Avery for early-morning showdown
USC’s water polo team comes barreling into Stanford’s Avery Aquatic Center this Saturday with as much momentum as one could imagine. The four-time defending NCAA champions are 14-0 on the season, which includes two first-place finishes at major early season tournaments, all while outscoring their opponents 203-63.
On top of that, No. 1 USC has beaten No. 5 Stanford (6-2) in each of their previous three meetings. The most recent instance came three weekends ago at Stanford’s home pool in the semifinals of the NorCal Invitational.
Even with those lopsided statistics, Stanford is bringing a sense of confidence into the match-up, which will be their first Mountain Pacific Sports Federation game of the year.
“We’re feeling very prepared and focused,” said redshirt junior goalie Scott Platshon, also noting that the team can still take a lot of positives out of their early season loss to USC.
The Cardinal lost that game in overtime by a score of 10-9 after leading for the majority of the contest. Stanford’s outside shooters proved that they could score against USC’s staunch defense, and the Cardinal defense has had a chance to learn from the errors they made in the loss.
“[We] spent a lot of time reviewing the game tape from our first game against them, and [we] are working hard to correct a few mistakes we made,” Platshon said. But Stanford cannot necessarily expect to see the same Trojan team that they played earlier this season. Most notably, Stanford may get their first test against the MPSF’s top goalie, junior James Clark, who is leading the conference in goals against per game. In their last meeting, USC instead started sophomore goalie Ely Bonilla<\p>–<\p>the conference’s second-leading goalie in goals against per game.
Behind a combination of those two, USC has allowed only 4.5 goals per game as a team, tops in the conference. In addition, USC is second in the conference with 14.5 goals scored per game.
Stanford, on the other hand, does not have such lofty statistics. The Cardinal is fourth in goals against per game at 7.13, and seventh in goals per game with 11.13.
With that said, Stanford goes into conference play with only eight games under its belt, the fewest of any MPSF team. That means the Cardinal has not had many tune-up games against weaker opponents, which usually help bolster overall statistics.
Asked if that will have any effect on future play, Platshon said, “No, I don’t think so. We worked hard all summer together.”
He also pointed out that true freshman driver Bret Bonanni—the team’s second leading scorer—and utility B.J. Churnside have fit into the team very well, even without the added games. Churnside netted two goals, and Bonanni one, in the loss to USC earlier this season.
Stanford’s eight games have all come in two weekend tournaments. They placed third in the NorCal Invitational and fifth at the SoCal Tournament. The Cardinal went 3-1 in both, but a loss to UC-Santa Barbara took them out of the winners’ bracket at the SoCal Tournament. After that loss Stanford rattled off wins against Pepperdine and Pacific in the second day of the tournament. Those wins were not enough to stop them from sliding in the national polls though, and Stanford dropped to fifth in the nation—the lowest it has been ranked this year.
This Saturday’s game against USC will be played at Stanford at 9 a.m., a start time that is much earlier than usual. Stanford prepared this week with early morning practices every day, but Platshon does not see the start time having any effect on the outcome.
“I don’t expect the start time to make any difference. It’s such a huge game—both teams are going to be fired up,” he said.
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