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Adding another chapter to a men's water polo rivalry

Stanford and USC go head-to-head for a spot in the NCAA finals

Bennett Williams ranks fourth in the Mountain Pacirfic Sports Federation in goals per game at 2.35 and sprints (21-4), fifth in goals with 47 and points per game with 3.35, sixth in points with 67. Photo by Hector Garcia-Molina/Stanford Athletics.

It's a men's water polo match made in heaven and, unfortunately for both participants, it comes in the national semifinals.

Top-ranked and top-seeded Stanford (19-2) meets Mountain Pacific Sports Federation rival USC at 5 p.m. Saturday for the right to advance into Sunday's national championship match.


John Claude Marco/Pepperdine Athletics
Although the Trojans (15-5) are ranked second in the nation and own one of the two victories of the season over the Cardinal, they were seeded fourth due to a pair of losses to host Pacific (16-5) and a loss to No. 3 Pepperdine (24-7).

USC reached the semifinals with a 15-9 victory over Bucknell, which features Palo Alto grad Jared Stanley, on Thursday.

The Waves, who play UOP at 7 p.m., reached the semifinals with a 15-12 victory over UC Davis. Sacred Heart Prep grad John Claude Marco recorded eight saves for Pepperdine.

Stanford and USC share a long, intense rivalry. They have met seven times, all since 1993, in the NCAA championship match. USC has won the past five championship meetings dating to 2003.

The Cardinal lost to USC, 9-8, in a regular-season contest and dropped last year's title match, 14-12, to the Trojans.

In a season of such parity, there is no clear favorite, though the Tigers own the home pool advantage. As Stanford found out last year, playing in the home pool means little with a national title at stake.

Stanford is 3-1 against the Final Four, edging Pacific twice by a grand total of four goals, edging Pepperine by a goal and, of course, losing to USC by a goal.

The Waves lost at Pacific 15-8 on Oct. 26 and the next day dropped a one-goal contest to the Cardinal. They also beat USC by a goal.

The field is so well-balanced it begs the issue of expanding the tournament to include more teams as the sport grows. The nation's No. 3 team (UCLA) didn't even get an invite, a glaring example of a bracket gone awry.

The final weekend still includes four of the top five ranked teams and as many as 14 teams had a legitimate chance to reach the tournament entering their respective conference tournaments. That's a nice bottom line for the sport.

Stanford redshirt junior Ben Hallock won his second straight MPSF Player of the Year Award this season. He led the conference in goals scored with 66, goals per game at 3.330 and ranks fourth in points per game at 3.45. The youngest member of the 2016 U.S. Olympic team that competed in Rio, Hallock ranks eighth on Stanford's career list for goals scored with 188.

Stanford led all conference schools with seven All-MPSF picks. Hallock, senior attacker Bennett Williams, junior attacker Tyler Abramson and senior Andrew Chun made the first team, while sophomore 2M AJ Rossman made the second team and sophomore Quinn Woodhead and senior Dylan Woodhead earned honorable mention.

Abramson ranks first in the MPSF in points with 85, first in points per game with 4.25, second in goals with 57 and third in assists with 28.

Williams ranks fourth in goals per game at 2.35 and sprints (21-4), fifth in goals with 47 and points per game with 3.35, sixth in points with 67.

Chun ranks third in the conference in saves with 193 and made a career-high 18 stops against Pepperdine.

Division III Championships

MIT, ranked seventh in the latest Collegiate Water Polo Association Division III national poll, is set to open play in the inaugural USA Water Polo Division III National Championship this weekend in Whittier.

The Engineers (11-14) will play host Whittier (19-12) on Saturday in their semifinal match. Johns Hopkins and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps meet in the later semifinal.

MIT qualified for the USA Water Polo Division III National Championship by finishing as the runner-up at the CWPA Division III Eastern Championship. The Engineers are offensively led by Menlo School alum Miller Geschke, who has 77 goals and 29 assists for 106 points this season.

Whittier qualified for the championship by winning the 2019 SCIAC Tournament Championship last week over Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, 13-12.

Johns Hopkins reached the final four by defeating MIT, 16-12, in the CWPA Division III Eastern Championship. Johns Hopkins edged CMS, 9-8, but fell to Whittier, 13-10, at the Gary Troyer Tournament.

Sacred Heart Prep grad Finn Banks leads Johns Hopkins (11-21) with 133 points (67 goals and 66 assists), while Menlo School alum Jayden Kunwar also surpassed the 100 point mark with 84 goals and 24 assists.

The Stags (17-11) will look to gain revenge on both Johns Hopkins and host Whittier as they lost to both programs earlier this season. Menlo-Atherton grad Noah Smith is the C-M-S goalie. SHP grads Kyle Ballack and CJ Box and Menlo alum Nick Hernandez all play for the Stags.

— Rick Eymer/Palo Alto Sports Online

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