By Evan Burke
No. 5 Stanford men’s water polo (14-6, 0-3 MPSF) will look to break a four-game losing streak this weekend with matches against No. 6 UC Santa Barbara (12-7, 1-3) and San Jose State (3-15, 0-3).
As the final stretch of the regular season approaches, Santa Barbara and Stanford find themselves in similar situations. Though neither school is out of contention, the Cardinal and the Gauchos are both on the outside looking in for an NCAA tournament berth. Both teams are looking for wins against quality opponents in hope of sparking winning streaks down the stretch and into the postseason.
Given the stakes, Stanford should undoubtedly expect Santa Barbara’s best in this game, and its best is certainly formidable; the Gauchos have narrowly lost two matches against No. 2 USC, one of the top teams in the nation. UCSB was nearly able to tie the game at the end of the second match, proving that it is a dangerous squad that is able to compete with any team.
The Cardinal’s NCAA title hopes have been jeopardized by their recent slide, and the pressure is on for the team to deliver in each of its remaining contests. Stanford has struggled in big games this season, with all of its six losses coming against teams ranked in the top five. In order for the Cardinal to mount a postseason run, they are going to have to find ways to win in important matches. This critical test against Santa Barbara is as good a time as any for this to start, and according to senior Bret Bonanni, the team is unfazed by its struggles and ready for UCSB.
“We don’t dwell on our past losses, anything like that,” said Bonanni. “We definitely go into these games knowing that they’re huge games for us, but we don’t let the past dictate our emotions, or be scared against certain opponents, because we have nothing to be scared of if we just play the way we can play.”
Stanford’s second match of the weekend could prove substantially easier. San Jose State has struggled mightily this year, and the Cardinal blew them out 20-5 in September. It was a win so dominant for Stanford that a whopping 13 players found the back of the Spartan net in a game that showcased the form that Stanford has been struggling to find during its current slide.
Still, nothing is guaranteed. The Spartans are coming off a big win of their own against Connecticut College, and the 25 goals they scored in that match could provide the confidence the team needs to step up its game and challenge Stanford. San Jose State actually plays Santa Barbara before traveling to Palo Alto, which should give the Cardinal a good look at both opponents for the weekend.
As Stanford tries to find its best form, the team will need to be ready and focused for each and every game, starting this weekend. Despite the recent slump, the players still believe that they can get the season back on track in time to make a push for a championship.
“We know we can be the best team and it’s time to start showing that, time to start believing,” said Bonanni. “We’ve done it in the past, there’s no reason we can’t do it this year. We’re going to go back to the basics a little bit, acknowledge some of the little details of the game, and start building.”
Stanford will face Santa Barbara at Avery Aquatics Center on Saturday at 4 p.m., before traveling to San Jose State for the Sunday match at noon.
Contact Evan Burke at eburke3 ‘at’ stanford.edu.