By Jeremy Rubin
No. 1 Stanford’s men’s water polo team (15-1, 0-0 MPSF) outlasted No. 5 Pepperdine (17-7, 1-1 GCC) in a closely contested 12-11 victory. In front of a lively home crowd at Avery Aquatic Center, the Cardinal extended their current winning streak to ten matches.
Redshirt junior Ben Hallock got the scoring started for both sides, finding the back of the net just 24 seconds into play. Senior driver Dylan Woodhead followed this up with a beautifully placed goal of his own the next possession. Stanford piled on five goals in the quarter with two more from Hallock and one by sophomore AJ Rossman.
Despite the offensive first quarter outburst, the Cardinal only found themselves up 5-4 at the end of the first quarter. “We had some mistakes defensively,” said head coach John Vargas. “We were a little rusty for being off for two weeks.”
Stanford’s last game was a 16-7 win over No. 14 UC-Irvine on October 13.
Defensive miscues aside, Stanford got the stops on that end of the pool when needed. Senior goalkeeper Andrew Chun finished with 18 saves and the team’s stifling defense prevented numerous other opportunities. “We feel really good right up the middle with our goalie and center defenders,” Vargas said. The team had five steals, three of which were Chun’s.
The game was a back-and-forth contest throughout the four quarters. While the Waves never were able to take a lead, Stanford also never led by more than three goals. For the entirety of the second half, the teams traded goals and no team scored twice in a row. In what was a balanced offensive attack, five Cardinal players finished with multiple goals.
Junior driver Tyler Abramson opened up the scoring in the second half, but Pepperdine quickly matched him. This was a common sight as the Cardinal was never able to completely put the Waves away. “[Pepperdine’s team has] big, strong players and they took it to us,” senior driver Bennett Williams said. “But you learn from it. Survive and advance.”
After a Pepperdine goal by freshman Austin Smit cut Stanford’s deficit to 10-9, Vargas called his final two timeouts in a span of 10 seconds to set up his team. The resulting play was a clutch goal by Rossman to put the Cardinal up by two. This goal would prove crucial, as a Pepperdine score 12 seconds later would have resulted in a tie game. “We have mature players and they came down the stretch and didn’t let the pressure get to them,” Vargas said.
With the team’s 12 goals, the Cardinal continued their season-long run of double digit goals every game. “We have an offensive powerhouse,” Chun said. Anchored by Hallock in the middle, Stanford’s offense is arguably the best in the nation.
Coming off this win, the team maintained confidence and momentum entering a gantlet of a schedule. “The guys are focused and ready,” Vargas said after the game.
Beginning with a major rematch against No. 6 USC, the team will then face off against No. 8 California and No. 2 UCLA in the span of two weeks. This stretch has been circled on the calendar since the beginning of the season. “The next three weeks sets everything up,” Vargas said.
Chun echoed his coach. “We looked at late-October and November as where the season really starts,” he said.
In the NCAA Championship last year, the Cardinal fell just short in a 14-12 loss at the hands of the Trojans.
The team is using last year’s USC defeat as motivation, but won’t get caught up in the past.
“You always remember losses you have to a team, but it’s a new year,” Williams said. “We know we can play with those guys. There’s no fear. It’s just about executing and being the best version of ourselves.”
Game time is set for Nov. 2 at 1 p.m. PST at USC.
Contact Jeremy Rubin at jjmrubin ‘at’ stanford.edu.