Stanford (21-5) opens play at the 2013 NCAA Men’s Water Polo Championship Thursday at 2:45 p.m. against SCIAC champion Whittier College at Avery Aquatic Center. The winner of Thursday’s play-in game will go on to face No. 2 seed Pacific in Saturday’s second semifinal at 2:45 p.m.
Thursday's games will not be webstreamed. Saturday and Sunday's contests, however, will be available via live stream on http://www.ncaa.com.
Tickets for Thursday's play-in games, which also includes the 1 p.m. contest between No. 4 UC San Diego and No. 5 St. Francis Brooklyn, are available only at the Avery Aquatic Center ticket windows. Prices are $5 for adults and $3 for students, youth and seniors.
All-Session passes are available for purchase at the Tournament Central page on GoStanford.com.
How The Cardinal Got In
The Cardinal grabbed one of the two at-large bids into this year’s NCAA Championship thanks to a strong run to close the regular season. Stanford won 11 of its final 12 games, finishing 7-1 in MPSF play, its best conference mark since 2004, and reached the final of the MPSF Tournament for the first time since 2010. At the tournament, the Cardinal nabbed wins over Long Beach State and UCLA to reach the title game and all but ensure itself at least an at-large bid.
About The Opposition
Whittier College (20-12) earned its first NCAA Championship Tournament berth last Sunday, defeating Claremont-Mudd-Scripps 10-9 in sudden death of the SCIAC Tournament final. The Poets, under the leadership of head coach Justin Pudwill, are led by an attack featuring Wedge Molthen and Erick Gonzalez, while Ryan Brunansky handles duties in the cage.
Last Time Out
Stanford reached the MPSF Tournament title game for the first time since 2010 last weekend, where it fell 10-8 to USC. The Cardinal, the draw’s second seed, earned its spot in the final after a 12-6 quarterfinal win over No. 7 Long Beach State then an 11-10 triumph over No. 3 UCLA in Saturday’s semifinal round. Bret Bonanni and Alex Bowen were each named to the MPSF All-Tournament Team, as Bonanni led the Cardinal with 11 goals over the three games and Bowen scored eight times. Freshman goalie Drew Holland went the distance in all three games, making 35 saves.
In The National Rankings
Stanford remained at No. 3 in Wednesday’s CWPA Varsity Top 20 Poll.
Stanford At The NCAA Championship
Stanford, owner of 10 NCAA men’s water polo titles (1976, 1978, 1980-81, 1985-86, 1993-94, 2001-02), will go for number 11 starting Thursday. This weekend also marks Stanford’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2008, which was the last time the event was hosted at Avery Aquatic Center. The Cardinal reached the NCAA title game that year, falling 7-5 to USC. In all, Stanford has reached the national championship game 20 times.
This year’s event will also mark the seventh time that Stanford has hosted the NCAA Men’s Water Polo Championship. The first event at Stanford was 1995, with additional events in 2001, 2003-04, and 2007-08. Of those seven previous occasions, Stanford won the NCAA title in 2001, and finished runner-up in 2003, 2004 and 2008. The Cardinal did not qualify for the event in 1995 or 2007.
Four Earn All-MPSF Honors
The MPSF announced its end-of-year conference awards and All-MPSF Teams Tuesday, and the Cardinal had four players honored. Junior utility Alex Bowen headlined the Cardinal quartet by being named to the All-MPSF First Team for the third straight season, while sophomore driver Bret Bonanni and redshirt senior Forrest Watkins were named to the second team and sophomore driver BJ Churnside was named honorable mention. Watkins earned his third all-conference honor while Bonanni and Churnside were each honored for the second
Bonanni Approaching MPSF Record
Sophomore driver Bret Bonanni enters the tournament as Stanford’s leading scorer with 89 goals, eclipsing his mark of 73 from last year. His current tally is also just nine back of the MPSF single-season record of 98 set by California’s Michael Sharf in 2007. At the Stanford level during the MPSF era, Bonanni is just six goals back of Tony Azevedo’s total of 95 set in 2002.
Cardinal Offense Hitting On All Cylinders
Bonanni isn’t the only Cardinal players on point as the Cardinal begins the NCAA Championship. Alex Bowen, the team’s lone All-MPSF first-team pick, has scored 67 goals on the year, eclipsing his 2012 mark of 64, while driver BJ Churnside has also set a career-high with 38 goals. Forrest Watkins (29 goals), Jackson Kimbell (24) and Paul Rudolph (23) are also all over the 20-goal mark, as Rudolph in particular has been lighting it up, scoring nine times over the past five games.
Special Weekend For The Seniors
Stanford’s trio of seniors, Scott Platshon, Paul Rudolph and Forrest Watkins, are enjoying a special weekend as they will participate at the NCAA Championship for the first time in their careers. The trio came to Stanford in the fall of 2009, a season after the Cardinal had reached the 2008 national title game at Avery Aquatic Center, and after each redshirting a year, the fifth-year seniors finally heard the good news this past Sunday that the Cardinal had qualified for the NCAA Championship. The closest the three had come to this event was in 2010, when the Cardinal made an upset run to the MPSF Tournament title game at Avery Aquatic Center before falling in sudden-death overtime to USC.