National Collegiate Men's Water Polo Championship Central
STANFORD, Calif. - Stanford's quest for its 11th national title fell short Sunday afternoon, as the second-seeded Cardinal (25-5) found itself on the wrong end of a 7-5 decision to top-seeded USC (29-0) in the final of the National Collegiate Men's Water Polo Championship at Avery Aquatic Center.
Stanford ends the season 25-6 and with its fourth runner-up finish in the past six years.
Five Stanford players scored goals in Sunday's championship game, as Ryan McCarthy, Jeffrey Schwimer, Drac Wigo, Janson Wigo and Sage Wright all found the net. On defense, Jimmie Sandman made 10 saves in the contest.
"I give credit to SC, they played well they did a nice job," said Stanford head coach John Vargas. "I am proud of our guys. We absolutely went for it and that's all I can ask of the guys. The outcome just wasn't what we wanted."
Things got off to a good start for the Cardinal Sunday, as Drac Wigo ripped the net just 1:28 into the contest on a successful counterattack. After Sandman stopped USC in a 6-on-5 situation, Wigo drew a foul while in possession in front of the net, and upon the restart fired a shot past USC goalie Joel Dennerly for the 1-0 lead.
Sandman would make a great save on a J.W. Krumpholz in response, but on the next trip down for USC, they would make the most of a second chance. After Sandman deflected a Shea Buckner shot out-of-bounds, USC reformed in their second attack and Buckner, who led all scorers with three goals on the day, did not miss the second time, scoring a power-play goal on a shot that found its way past Sandman to the inside post with 4:27 to go in the period.
After the teams traded opportunities, Stanford would regain the lead with 2:56 on the clock, as Saturday night's game-winner, Schwimer, took advantage of a quick restart following a USC exclusion and buried a shot past Dennerly.
Yet that would be Stanford's last goal until McCarthy's score as time expired at the end of the third period. In that 18:56 between Cardinal goals, USC would reel off five in a row, beginning with Buckner's five-meter penalty shot 57 seconds into the second period. After Sandman made two saves on USC's possession, the Cardinal was called for a penalty in the scrum to corral the rebound resulting from Sandman's second save. Buckner's shot got past Sandman to right post, knotting it up at 2-2.
The defenses would take over for the next four and a half minutes, until USC's Jordan Thompson connected from up close 2:26 before halftime to give USC its first lead. Just under two minutes later, Justin Rappel would score with 44 seconds left to give USC a 4-2 lead heading into the break.
"I think [USC] going up two goals instead of one at half hurt us a little more than I'd like to think it would have," Sandman said. "Our defense played really well and that helps me play well. I think collectively we all played a pretty good game, just not good enough."
Sandman's play in the cage, highlighted at the start of the second half by a save on a USC power play, kept the Cardinal afloat as the offense struggled to get a shot past the USC defense on the attacking end. The Cardinal goalie would make another save on USC's second trip down, stopping a Peter Kurzeka attempt, but on USC's third trip, Buckner would complete his hat trick as his shot ricocheted off the inside of the far post and into the net to put the Trojans ahead by three. Kyle Sterling would capitalize on a 6-on-5 opportunity with 1:12 to play in the third period to increase the lead to four at 6-2.
Stanford continued to knock on the door, getting a key 6-on-5 on the ensuing possession, but was frustrated once more as Wright's point-blank shot was stopped by Dennerly, who made nine saves on the day.
The Cardinal would finally end its scoring drought in the period's final seconds, as a quick counterattack found McCarthy just behind the USC defense. With Trojan defenders closing in and Dennerly coming out of the cage to knock the ball away, McCarthy managed to lift the ball over Dennerly just before the horn. The lofted shot hit the water on the goal line and had just enough on it to bounce across the line before the USC goalie could clear it.
Trailing by three heading into the final eight minutes, neither team could crack the opposing defense until there was 4:43 remaining. The Cardinal cycled the ball around the perimeter on a power play, and Janson Wigo fired hard from the right wing and ripped the net to cut the gap to a pair at 6-4.
Stanford seemed to have the momentum going its way as Will Hindle-Katel made a takeaway on the defensive end, giving the Cardinal the chance to get to within a goal. Things looked even better when USC was called for an exclusion, but Stanford could not take advantage of the power play and had its pain doubled when Krumpholz cashed in with a backhand on the ensuing Trojan possession to make it 7-4 with just 3:17 to play.
Wright would keep hope alive with a straight-on shot that found the mark on a Stanford power play with 1:36 remaining.
USC would simply use of the 35-second shot clock on its next possession, giving Stanford the ball and a must-score possession. But Dennerly would help the Trojans seal the national title game as he stopped Hindle-Katel's backhand with less than a minute remaining.
Following the game, Stanford's Drac Wigo and Wright were named to the National Collegiate CHampionship All-Tournament First Team, while Hindle-Katel, Sandman and Janson Wigo earned spots on the Second Team.
Stanford - 2 0 1 2 = 5
USC - 1 3 2 1 = 7
Stanford Goal Scorers: McCarthy, Schwimer, D. Wigo, J. Wigo, Sa. Wright
USC Goal Scorers: Buckner 3, Krumpholz, Rappel, Sterling, Thompson
Goalie Saves: Sandman 10 (S); Dennerly 9 (USC)