By Evan Burke
In its final match of the regular season, No. 5 Stanford men’s water polo (20-6, 5-3 MPSF) will take on No. 2 Cal (20-5, 6-2) on Sunday in front of a home crowd at Avery Aquatic Center.
Stanford’s latest encounter with its archrival presents a golden opportunity for the Cardinal to cement their regular season résumé with a quality win, enhancing their chances of making the NCAA tournament. Stanford could move back into the top four of the NCAA rankings with a victory, or at the very least enter the MPSF tournament with confidence.
All season, the team has maintained that it is talented enough to be the best in the nation. In the past six games, Stanford has looked like a premier squad. Behind hat tricks from seniors Bret Bonanni and Adam Abdulhamid, the team put on an utterly dominant performance in its most recent 20-0 victory over No. 17 Santa Clara, its second shutout in its last three games and its second consecutive 20-goal match. With the offense firing on all cylinders and the defense playing stingy, Stanford appears to be rounding into postseason form.
However, the Bears should provide a significantly tougher test. The Bears are coming off a weekend of games in which they were defeated 11-10 by Pacific, with whom they share the No. 2 ranking, but rebounded quickly and obliterated No. 9 Pepperdine, 26-3. Despite the loss to Pacific, Cal fields one of the best teams in the nation, as evidenced by its record and ranking, and it has already defeated Stanford once this year, 14-11.
That loss came during Stanford’s four-game slide in the middle of October, and while the Cardinal have since rebounded, the Golden Bears remain formidable opponents. Stanford will need to bring its best in order to win and keep its postseason hopes alive; a loss could doom its championship hopes for good. Luckily for Stanford, and for spectators on Sunday, the Cardinal are playing some of their most dominant water polo of the year and appear ready for the challenge.
Neither team will need any more motivation than the thought of playing its rival, but with championship aspirations on the line, both Stanford and Cal will be prepared for another hard-fought, high-stakes match in this long and storied series.
Stanford will play Cal at 1 p.m. on Sunday at the Avery Aquatic Center.
Contact Evan Burke at ebruke3 ‘at’ stanford.edu.