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Men’s water polo cruises to a senior day victory

Cardinal claims a win over another top five ranked opponent

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“Why aren’t you listening to me,” repeatedly yelled UCLA head coach Adam Wright during Saturday’s game at No. 1 Stanford. 

Wright’s frustration manifested itself out of his team’s inconsistent performance and inability to stop redshirt junior Ben Hallock, Stanford’s leading scorer. Hallock netted a team-high five goals in the affair as Stanford men’s water polo (17-2, 2-1 MPSF) claimed a 17-11 victory over No. 3 UCLA (16-3, 1-2 MPSF) in front of a packed crowd at Avery Aquatic Center. 

Seniors Bennett Williams and Dylan Woodhead were recognized after the game for their contributions to the team. The senior day game marked the end of the regular season for the Cardinal with the MPSF tournament beginning on Nov. 22.

Hallock, the conference leader in goals with 62, scored the first goal of the game off an assist from junior driver Tyler Abramson, sparking a Cardinal offense that followed suit with four unanswered goals, including one from freshman driver Larsen Weigle.

The Bruins responded with a goal of their own on a power play with a minute left in the quarter. Visibly frustrated, Wright earned himself a yellow card shortly after for yelling at the referee following the exclusion of one of his players. The first quarter closed with a 6-1 scoreline in Stanford’s favor.

“Our focus for today was to come out really hot in the first few minutes, putting in as much energy as we could, and I think we did a really great job of that,” Woodhead said.

The second quarter was particularly high-scoring. It started with an exclusion on Williams in the first thirty seconds, leading to a goal on the power play by UCLA’s Ashworth Molthen. In the next minute, Williams and sophomore AJ Rossman both found the back of the net, completing Williams’ hat trick.

“Some days, everybody’s just ready to shoot, and our shots are dropping,” said Williams. “We saw that today. We came out, had a great first half and it rolled from there.” 

The Bruins’ Matthew Kacura then added another goal, followed by three more goals by the Cardinal, one by sophomore driver Quinn Woodhead, and two more by Hallock, completing his hat trick and increasing Stanford’s  lead to 11-3.

“Offensively, the game went really well,” said head coach John Vargas. “The whole team played well. Of course, Hallock is the center of our offense and he played super well today.”

With three minutes left in the quarter, UCLA and Stanford alternated goals, tacking on three to the Bruins’ score and two to Stanford’s, completing the first half with a score of 13-6, Stanford.

After a halftime synchronized swimming routine from the freshmen on the women’s water polo team, the third quarter saw Rossman complete a hat trick. 

With two minutes left in the quarter,  UCLA’s Felix Brozyna-Vilim was excluded and Hallock scored a quick goal from the post on the power play, throwing Wright into another rage. He received his second yellow card of the game, and the audience appeared united in mocking his complaints toward the referees for much of the remainder of the game.

The fourth quarter began with a 15-8 lead for the Cardinal. Stanford added two goals with contributions from Hallock and Williams as UCLA’s attempt to come back fell short at just three goals in the final period. 

While Hallock powered the offense with a team-high five goals, Williams and Rossman contributing four and three, respectively, in the 17-11 victory.

For Williams and Woodhead, the match marked their last regular season competition at Avery. Williams has contributed 152 goals in his Stanford career thus far, while Woodhead has accumulated 61.

Looking back on his four years on the Farm, Williams said that his most memorable moments were those with his teammates. “The sport’s really just a big pool party with all your friends, and it’s just such a privilege to be able to hang out with them every day,” he said. 

For Woodhead, his career highlight came in the MPSF tournament last year.  “We ended up winning and beating Cal in the championship,” he said. “The teammates I’ve been able to share it with have been so special. That’s really what makes this program so fun and memorable.”

The postseason begins Friday with the MPSF tournament in Berkeley. Seeded second, the Cardinal will likely rematch with UCLA in the semifinals on Saturday at 1 p.m. “We’re playing UCLA again this Saturday, and they’re great shooters, as the showed us today, so we have to be better about putting them down,” Williams said.

A win over UCLA would send the Cardinal to the conference championships against likely top-seed USC. The Trojans completed their regular season on Saturday with a 14-13 victory at No. 7 Cal (12-10, 0-3 MPSF) to remain perfect in conference play. The last time Stanford and USC met, Stanford suffered its second loss of the season in a 9-8 defeat.

“We have some things to sure up on the defensive end, which will be a good focus for MPSF,” Woodhead said. “USC’s playing really well, so we can’t take our first game against them next week lightly. That’s a must win for us.”

Following the MPSF tournament, the season will conclude with the NCAA tournament on Dec. 7-8.

Contact Natalie Hilderbrand at nhild ‘at’ stanford.edu.