Senior Day is always a dichotomy of emotions. Winning carries extra emotional significance at a point in the season where a win is already crucial from a purely objective point of view.
A victory for No.3 Stanford (14-5, 4-3 MPSF) over No.7 Pacific this Friday night would secure the fourth seed in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament. A loss would open up the door for the Tigers to jump them in the standings, which would mean an even worse draw for the Cardinal in the conference playoffs.
Stanford’s regular season finale is meaningful far beyond playoff positioning. It marks the end of half a decade of work for four redshirt seniors and a transition to a new generation of players.
“It’s kind of a bittersweet moment. The culmination of five hard years of work in one night at Avery Aquatic Center,” said senior driver Travis Noll.
Noll, 2-meter Andrew LaForge, and 2-meter Ryan Brown will join driver Alex Avery in saying an affectionate goodbye to the pool brandished with Avery’s family name.
“There’s nothing like playing in that pool so its going to be kind of sad never getting to do that again,” Noll said. “But it’s going to be fun to have one last showdown at the pool, and I’m excited for the moment.”
From a purely water polo perspective, this is a rematch of two familiar teams. Stanford defeated Pacific 9-5 in the SoCal Tournament earlier this year, and they are confident that their tactical preparation will produce another positive result.
“We know what offense and defense they plan on running, they haven’t changed much since we played them at the beginning of the season,” Noll said.
This is also matchup of the two top scorers in the MPSF. Pacific junior Balazs Erdelyi leads this league with 3.74 goals per game, but Bret Bonanni is right on his heels with an average of 3.42 goals per game. In the previous meeting, Erdelyi was held to a single goal, while Bonanni mustered two. The real star of the game though was Stanford’s second leading scorer, sophomore utility Alex Bowen, who scored a game-high four goals.
On the front of Bowen’s mind entering this matchup is how he can send his seniors off on a high note. He and his fellow underclassmen may be leaned on to do most of the scoring, but they know how much value this graduating class brings to the team.
“They’re all leaders, and its great to see them off with a win,” Bowen said, after taking a minute to collect his thoughts and condense his feeling for the group of redshirt seniors into something succinctly meaningful.
Winning this game is not a foregone conclusion though. Pacific is 3-3 in the MPSF and has scored at least 10 goals in each of their past five games, which have all been against quality conference opponents. And while they are coming off of a loss in their last game, it was a 13-10 loss to a UCLA team that just handed Stanford a 9-5 defeat last Friday.
The Cardinal is hoping they can channel their emotions into quality play and get a win that will send the seniors out on a positive note, and also get back some momentum before the MPSF Tournament.
“Winning our last home game means a lot to all the seniors, and it should mean a lot to the whole team,” Noll said.
Opening tip is set for 5:00 p.m. this Friday night at Avery Aquatic Center against UCLA.