By Andrew Tan
Hungry to avenge its NCAA championship defeat against USC last season, No. 2 men’s water polo kicks off its season at the Navy Invitational in Annapolis, Maryland this weekend with four games against weaker competition.
As one of the headliners of the nine-team event, Stanford will be afforded an opportunity to work into a rhythm against the likes of Navy, Iona, Johns Hopkins and No. 12 Princeton — facing the first two on Saturday and the latter two on Sunday — before squaring off against stiffer competition next weekend at the Stanford Invitational. La Salle, Fordham, Austin and No. 2 UCLA will also be represented at the tournament but are not slated to contest the Cardinal.
Stanford is familiar with three of its challengers, outscoring Princeton, Johns Hopkins and Navy by a combined score of 65-13 at the 2018 Princeton Invitational, with Iona representing the sole new face.
In those games, juniors Ben Hallock and Tyler Abramson and senior Bennett Williams led the way with 10 goals each, accounting for nearly half of Stanford’s offensive output. That trio figures to spearhead the Cardinal attack again at the Navy Invitational and throughout the 2019 season. Stanford looks to again dominate its early-season opponents en route to the program’s seventh straight 4-0 start.
Based on the quality of Stanford’s competition, the Navy Invitational will be a good chance for head coach John Vargas to experiment with different lineups and rotate some less-experienced players in with the starters. This was the case in the fourth contest of the Princeton Invitational last season, when the Cardinal scoresheet featured a season-high 10 different players.
In front of the goal, senior Andrew Chun will make his first start as the team’s full-time shotstopper. Additionally, freshmen Andrew Churukian, Troy Gleason and Beck Jurusias will all likely make their collegiate debuts.
Regardless of who plays, Stanford should cruise to easy victories in each of its four matchups while determining its starting lineup heading into marquee games against Big Four opponents No. 1 USC, UCLA and No. 4 Cal later in the season.
Contact Andrew Tan at tandrew ‘at’ stanford.edu.