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M. Water Polo: Stanford gets ready for extra Big Splash

Stanford (8-3, 2-1 MPSF) makes a visit to Berkeley’s Spieker Aquatics Complex this Saturday for the Big Splash with a chance to drop the Golden Bears to 0-3 in conference play. With a win, the fifth-ranked Cardinal would also have its first three-game winning streak of the season.
On Sunday, Stanford makes the trip to Santa Clara for the annual Rodeo Tournament, where it will face unranked Bucknell and No. 13 Air Force.
Stanford is looking to build on its most successful weekend of the season, in which the Card shut down the up-and-coming No. 2 UC-Santa Barbara Gauchos before decisively taking care of business against eighth-ranked Pepperdine.
The victories were Stanford’s first and second wins of Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play, and they put Stanford back in title contention. The much-needed wins came a week after No. 1 USC dealt the Cardinal a demoralizing loss to open the regular season.
“We have a lot of momentum going into this weekend for the Big Splash,” said senior driver Travis Noll. “We played well, and we are going to continue to play well for the rest of the season, especially this weekend.”

Stanford squares off with Cal on Saturday for the Big Splash. (Stanford Daily File Photo)

No. 7 California (9-6, 0-2 MPSF) comes into this matchup reeling from a blistering early conference schedule. Their two MPSF games thus far, both losses, have come against defending national champion No. 1 USC and defending MPSF Tournament champion No. 3 UCLA.
Despite Cal’s poor record, Stanford is wary of the Bears’ potential.
“It’s definitely going to be a tough game. They have a lot of talent and they have played good teams to one-goal games,” said junior 2-meter Forrest Watkins.
As Watkins mentioned, both of Cal’s conference losses came by one goal, including a sudden-death overtime loss to UCLA. The close defeats started before conference play though, as five of their six losses have been by one goal. Cal’s biggest margin of defeat is two goals, against No. 4 UC-Irvine.
Stanford is already responsible for one of those six losses. The Cardinal won the teams’ first meeting 9-8 to take third place in the NorCal Invitational, which was hosted at Stanford, back on Sept. 16.
But while the final score line points to a close battle, Stanford had a commanding 7-1 second-quarter lead before letting Cal trickle back into the contest.
Stanford is playing down the importance of its home-field advantage in that game, which will belong to the Golden Bears this weekend.
“Being in a stadium full of Cal fans won’t affect us at all,” said Noll.
Still, the Spieker Aquatics Complex is historically a tough environment to play in, especially with the added significance of the Big Splash.
The previous time this regular-season matchup took place at Berkeley, the then-No.1 Golden Bears roughed up a Stanford team that was ranked fifth–as they are again this year.
This year’s game is coming at just the right time for Stanford, when its biggest offensive threats are in top form.
The team’s two leading goal scorers, sophomore utility Alex Bowen and freshman driver Bret Bonanni, recorded hat tricks in their previous game against Pepperdine. Bonanni had a three-goal game against Santa Barbara as well–a feat that won him the MPSF/KAP 7 Player of the Week award.
Asked if Bonanni is capable of recording a third straight hat trick in Saturday’s game, Watkins said, “Based on today in practice, yeah, he sure is.”
Watkins, the team’s third leading scorer and arguably the team’s best all-around player, had two goals of his own in each of last weekend’s games.
The two Sunday games have less impact on Stanford’s postseason hopes. Stanford has typically dominated at the Rodeo Tournament, which provides a reprieve from MPSF opponents.
The Cardinal was matched up with Air Force in this tournament last year as well, a game they won by a score of 16-3. While Bowen and Watkins scored three goals apiece, a slew of other players also got involved on the score sheet.
“Anyone is capable of a breakout performance,” Noll said.
The game at Cal is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on Saturday. The first game of the Rodeo Tournament for Stanford will be Sunday at 8 a.m. against Bucknell, and the second will be at noon against Air Force.