By Evan Burke
The No. 5 Stanford men’s water polo team (16-6, 2-3 MPSF) notched two wins this weekend, defeating No. 6 UC Santa Barbara (13-8, 2-4) 10-8 on Saturday and San Jose State (3-19,0-6) 17-4 on Sunday. The victories broke a four-game losing streak for the Cardinal, which had lost to four tough top-five opponents during that stretch.
At the Avery Aquatic Center on Saturday, Stanford started the match slowly and found itself down two goals early in the first quarter. Santa Barbara had several other quality chances to extend its lead, but spectacular saves from junior Drew Holland kept the Gauchos at bay while Stanford rallied. The Cardinal, however, eventually took a 4-2 lead in the second quarter with two goals apiece from seniors Adam Abdulhamid and Bret Bonanni.
“We weren’t making the passes we needed to make in the first quarter,” said sophomore Cody Smith, who had two goals on the day. “We knew we were going to just keep fighting back, and once we tied it up, I think that’s when we really stared to get confident.”
Still, UCSB would not go away. The Gauchos tied the game at 4 in the second quarter before Bonanni scored in the final seconds to put Stanford up one going into halftime. The Cardinal had several opportunities in the third quarter to extend their lead, including two penalty shots, but were only able to score one goal. Despite its offensive struggles, the team was able to keep its focus, and Stanford’s tough defense limited UCSB’s chances and allowed the Cardinal to take a 6-5 lead into the final period.
“It’s always frustrating when you don’t see shots fall,” said Smith. “But definitely in the third quarter, we were just making sure they didn’t score because even if we’d only won by one goal that’s enough for us. “
In the fourth quarter, Stanford found its offensive rhythm, extending its lead to 9-5 with three unanswered goals. Defensive lapses allowed UCSB to rally in the game’s final minutes, but the Cardinal were able to hold on for the 10-8 win.
The next day, Stanford carried its momentum from the UCSB victory to San Jose State where it dominated the Spartans for the second time this season. It was a clinical win that showcased Stanford’s offensive ability and potential as an elite water polo team.
Nine players scored for the Cardinal, including hat tricks from Bonanni, Smith, and freshman Kyle Weikert. Stanford never trailed in the game, and the closest that SJSU was able to come was a 5-3 deficit with 2:13 to go in the second quarter after consecutive scores.
After those two goals, the Spartans didn’t find the back of the net again until the 6:03 mark in the fourth quarter, at which point Stanford had turned the game into a 16-3 blowout with 11 unanswered goals of its own. SJSU was only able to halt the barrage temporarily though, as Stanford would score once more for its 17th and final time of the game.
With his three goals Sunday, Bonanni is now one goal shy of tying the all-time Stanford scoring record, held by Tony Azevedo. That’s rare company for the senior — Azevedo was recently named the Pac-12 Men’s Water Polo Player of the Century and is considered one of the greatest American water polo players of all time.
The wins this weekend give Bonanni and the rest of the Cardinal confidence as they continue through the final stretch of the regular season, knowing that one loss could kill their championship hopes. They will play again next weekend at No. 8 Long Beach State and at No. 7 UC Irvine.
Contact Evan Burke at eburke3 ‘at’ stanford.edu.