Sept. 13, 2012
2012 Stanford Men's Water Polo Record Book
NorCal Invitational Central
STANFORD, Calif. - After injuries played a key role in derailing the end of the Cardinal's 2011 season, the Stanford men's water polo team returns strong, healthy and primed for action as the 2012 campaign gets underway this weekend.
The Cardinal opens the new slate at home at Avery Aquatic Center, considered the best water polo facility in the nation, hosting the 2012 NorCal Invitational. Stanford last hosted the 16-team tournament in 2009, when it went 4-0 to capture the tournament crown. This Saturday, the fourth-ranked Cardinal, the top seed of Group D, sees its first action at 10:50 a.m. against No. 14 Santa Clara.
"We want to immediately establish ourselves as a good defensive team and then disciplined on offense," said Stanford head coach John Vargas, who begins his 11th season at the Cardinal helm. "If we can do both of those, then we'll have a good showing at the tournament. We're fortunate to host it here, it's the best facility in the country, people like to come play here."
This season Stanford four of its top eight goal scorers, led by 2011 MPSF Newcomer of the Year and ACWPC first-team All-American Alex Bowen, who scored 53 goals last year. Also returning are redshirt junior two-meter and second-team All-American Forrest Watkins (42 goals in 2011), redshirt senior driver Travis Noll, who scored 16 goals while battling injuries last season and fellow redshirt senior driver Alex Avery (13 goals in 2011).
Senior Paul Rudolph, who scored 25 goals in 2011, will redshirt the 2012 season due to injury.
Redshirt seniors Andrew LaForge and Ryan Brown, big two-meter presences for the Cardinal, will also play a role on both sides of the pool, creating mismatches and requiring double-teams on offense while battling opposing two-meter players in the hole on defense. Redshirt junior Ian Gamble (eight goals in 2011) along with redshirt freshmen Michael Carter and Robert Dunlevie will bolster the offense as well.
"Travis, Andrew, Ryan and Alex Avery have been giving great leadership this whole preseason, so that's been wonderful having them back as fifth-year seniors," said Vargas. "Having Forrest finally healthy coming back from injury is a shot in the arm for us as he's our best defensive player and can do a lot for us offensively. Alex Bowen had an outstanding offensive season last year and the focus this year has been shoring up some defensive stuff. We have very good players that have had a lot of playing time over the last couple of seasons returning so we feel good about that."
"The great thing about [Travis and Alex Avery] is that they'll be facilitating our offense," Vargas continued. "They do a great job of communicating what we need to do on offense and defense, they set up players and are excellent shooters from the perimeter."
The team will feature new faces in goal in 2012 due to the graduation of 2011 All-MPSF honorable mention Brian Pingree. Last year Pingree allowed just 6.17 goals per game while making 7.17 saves a game.
The trio of redshirt sophomores Scott Platshon and Hunter Ploch along with redshirt freshman Clayton Evans. Platshon and Ploch spent last season backing up Pingree, while Evans redshirted. After a three-way battle during spring workouts and August's preseason, the goalie picture has cleared up for the Cardinal.
"The competition this season's been very good, Scott Platshon has shown that he's taken over that number one position so he'll be our number one guy right now with Clayton backing him up and Hunter as the third goalie," Vargas noted. "But our defense is going to start with what we do on the outside. That's where Forrest and Andrew LaForge, Nick Hoversten and Conner Cleary will be really key to how well we do defensively this season."
Bringing their own skill sets to The Farm in 2012 will be freshmen Bret Bonanni (Huntington Beach, Calif./Mater Dei HS) and BJ Churnside (Orange, Calif./Villa Park HS). A member of the U.S. Junior National Team in 2011, Bonanni has drawn comparisons to former Cardinal great Tony Azevedo for his scoring skill and talent on the perimeter, having scored 435 career goals at Mater Dei and being named CIF Southern Section Division I Player of the Year in both 2010 and 2011. Churnside has also seen international action, spending time with the U.S. Youth National Team in 2011. As a prep he was thrice named to the CIF Southern Section Division II First Team (2009-11) while scoring 424 career goals at Villa Park High School.
Fellow freshmen Adam Abdulhamid, Troy Barnhart, Griffin Bolan and Adam Warmoth will redshirt the 2012 season.
"Immediately, [Bret and BJ] are talented players and athletes so the challenge for them is to fit in their skills to what we're trying to do as a team, and they've been doing that quickly," Vargas said about the two freshmen who will feature on the main roster this season. "They're great offensive players and excellent defensive players and we're fortunate to have them. They will be great for us right now and in the future."
Once again this season the MPSF shapes up to be a tight competition with eight conference tournament bids open for nine teams. Stanford will battle its usual "Big Four" foes, USC, California and UCLA, but schools like UC Santa Barbara, UC Irvine, Pacific, Pepperdine and Long Beach State have closed the gap to make the MPSF an extremely competitive conference.
"There is a lot of parity [in the MPSF] and the teams are excellent," Vargas noted. "The top nine teams in the country are in our conference. Teams like Santa Barbara, Irvine, Pepperdine, Pacific and Long Beach State are vastly improved. They've improved their rosters by adding international players and there's no walkover on our schedule, each game is going to be tough."