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M. Water Polo: Loss at UCLA drops Card to fourth in MPSF

No. 3 Stanford took a third conference loss this Friday, putting a damper on their late-season momentum and stifling their hopes for an NCAA Tournament birth. The Cardinal’s prolific scoring duo, freshman driver Bret Bonanni and sophomore utility Alex Bowen, were held to a goal a piece as Stanford fell 9-5 at UCLA in their second-to-last regular-season game.

Stanford (14-5, 4-3 MPSF) has now lost all three of their in-conference games against teams with winning Mountain Pacific Sports Federations records. The Cardinal will drop to fourth place in the conference, behind the three teams it has lost to, USC, UCLA, and UC-Berkeley, with one game left to play before the Mountain Pacific Sports Foundation (MPSF) Tournament.

The only route to the NCAA postseason is now a first place finish at the MPSF Tournament. Stanford is out of the running for the one at-large bid to NCAAs since both USC and UCLA have better records overall and are undefeated in conference play (they play each other in the season finale, which will determine the top seed for the conference playoffs).

Friday’s loss to UCLA ended Stanford’s six-game winning streak, and it also ended Bonanni’s streak of six hat tricks in a row. Sophomore utility Nick Hoversten tried to make it up with two third-quarter goals of his own, but they were not enough.

Hoversten’s goals kept the game within striking distance–the score was 6-5 late in the third quarter–but the final nine minutes went decisively in UCLA’s favor. The Bruins rode a fourth-quarter shutout to score the last three goals of the contest.

True to form, UCLA’s scoring was spread out throughout their roster. Three players netted two goals each, and three others chipped in with a goal each. They have been using this balanced formula all year–which has allowed them to lead the conference in scoring even though they have only one player in the top 15 in goals per game.

The second-ranked Bruin defense came up big as well. They were able to essentially shut down Bonanni and Bowen, whom Stanford has leaned on heavily during their winning streak. Both are in the top six in scoring in the league, and they have accounted for over half of the Cardinal’s total goals this season.

The duo kept Stanford close in the early stages of the game though. Bonanni’s goal gave them a 2-1 advantage four minutes into the first quarter. The early lead was important for Stanford, especially since they were playing away from home and had the UCLA fans to deal with for a Friday night game.

Bowen’s lone goal, which halted a 3-0 run by UCLA, made the score 4-3 going into halftime. Going into the locker rooms, the evenly played game was anyone’s for the taking.

The Bruins did take it in the second half though, scoring twice in the first three minutes of the third quarter to build a 6-3 lead. Hoversten kept Stanford’s hopes alive with his two goals, but the fourth quarter was dominated by UCLA’s defense.

In the end, the game was defined by UCLA’s scoring runs, and by Stanford’s inability to respond on their offensive possessions.

It is a troubling trend for Stanford, whose last four losses have each come by at least three goals. Just as troubling is that that those losses have all come against the teams they expect to face in the later stages of the MPSF Tournament.

Stanford is 0-2 against top-ranked USC, 0-1 against UCLA, and 1-1 against third-seeded California (the win came in the third-place game of a preseason tournament).

After dropping a match to UCLA over the weekend, Stanford must win the MPSF Tournament to secure a spot at NCAAs (LARRY GE/The Stanford Daily).

Stanford now turns its attention to its season finale against Pacific, a team that has proven it can compete with the top teams in the conference. That Senior Day game will be Friday at 5 p.m. at Avery Aquatic Center.