Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - June 6, 2014

He's following in some big footsteps

by Rick Eymer

Sophomore Bret Bonanni, one of four current Stanford water polo players on the roster of the United States Men's Senior National Team, is on pace to accomplish the unthinkable: surpass four-time Olympian Tony Azevedo as the Cardinal's most prolific scorer.

Bonanni (6-4, 205) surpassed Azevedo as the top freshman scorer in school history, netting 73 in 2012, five more than Azevedo scored as a freshman.

Bonanni added a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation record 97 goals as a sophomore. With 170 total, he's more than halfway to Azevedo's school record 332.

"I never thought anyone would break Tony's record," Stanford coach John Vargas said. "But athletes are better, bigger and stronger."

Bonanni, along with Cardinal juniors Alex Bowen and Conner Cleary, and freshman Jackson Kimbell, will be at Stanford when the United States and Serbia complete a four-game friendly series with a match Sunday at 3 p.m.

The Americans dropped a 13-6 decision to the Serbians on Wednesday night at Pacific in Stockton. Bowen scored twice for the USA. The teams next will play at California on Saturday at 3 p.m.

Freshman goalie Drew Holland would have been a fifth Stanford product on the USA team, but is out four weeks because of mononucleosis.

Azevedo (as well as Stanford grad Janson Wigo) remains on the American roster, but is currently taking it easy for a year before returning next year to gear up for his fifth Olympics team.

"There is no one else like him," Vargas said. "He's the best water polo player the United States has ever produced. He makes his teammates better. When he decides its time to stop playing, I see him involved in the sport at the highest level. He's one of the special ones."

Vargas points to Olympian Peter Varellas as a better comparison for Bonanni's career. Varellas came to Stanford weighing 165 pounds. He weighed 190 pounds as a senior and continued to develop through the professional ranks.

"Bret is a better player now than Peter was at the same stage," Vargas said. "So many people come into play in a player's development."

The U.S. senior team arrived in the Bay Area earlier this week after winning the FINA Intercontinental Tournament in Shanghai, China on Sunday. Bonanni and Bowen were among the teams' leading scorers.

The Americans are training with Serbia in preparation for the FINA Super World League Finals in Dubai, which begin June 14.

Hosting the USA-Serbia match at Stanford is a big deal. The Americans are relatively young on the international stage and a packed house at Avery Aquatic Center helps create excitement.

"It's the best facility in the country," Vargas said. "It's world class when it comes to viewing a game. It's exciting any time you can host the national team. It's great experience for the players and for the club players, as well."

The two teams are co-hosting a two-hour clinic Sunday morning at 9 a.m., with more than 200 kids already signed up.

Entertainment, including on site food trucks, music, vendor tents, and promotional giveaways, opens at 1 p.m. Sunday. Gates open at 2 p.m. For information and pricing, visit http://www.usavserbia.com/tickets.html.

Fund-raising for Serbian Flood relief also will take place.

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