By Mark Soltau
For Alex Bowen, the summer was a blur. He spent most of it playing water polo in foreign countries -- 42 days to be exact -- and couldn't wait to return home to see family and friends, and chow down on Mexican food.
"It was probably the most homesick I've ever been, not being able to communicate with people on the street," said the Stanford junior, a two-time All-American on the men's water polo team. "Being in another country is a fantastic opportunity and I was really excited to see the culture and the people, but at the same time, I wish I was able to spend a little more time with my mom and dad."
Raised in Santee, near San Diego, Bowen began his summer adventure in June before the end of spring quarter, when he traveled to Los Angeles, then Russia to compete in the FINA World Super League, helping the U.S. to a fourth-place finish.
When it ended, he flew home to finish finals. Then he went to Spain to play for the U.S. Senior National Team at the FINA World Championship, where the Americans finished ninth.
His next stop was Croatia, where he joined the U.S. Junior National Team and competed in Hungary in the FINA World Junior Championship in August, leading the U.S. to a highly respectable fifth-place showing.
"What really saved me was being able to switch from the senior team to the junior team in the middle of it," Bowen said. "It gave me a boost and another goal. It let me shift gears and be excited for something else."
Language challenges aside, Bowen said he was treated well everywhere he went, and especially enjoyed two trips to the beach in Barcelona. He also gained a ton of international experience in the pool, skills he hopes to utilize this season with the fourth-ranked Cardinal team.
"I was basically playing against the best players in the world," said the 6-foot-4 Bowen, a utility player. "I was able to learn and adjust and eliminate mistakes I was making in college."
Bowen hasn't made many at Stanford. As a freshman, he led the team in scoring with 53 goals and had 11 hat tricks, earning All-MPSF first-team and Newcomer of the Year honors. Last year, he netted 64 goals -- second-best on the squad -- and recorded 12 hat tricks, repeating as an All-MPSF first-team selection.
"He's a great perimeter player and shooter for us," said Cardinal head coach John Vargas. "But he can also defend and do some post-ups. He has excellent strength and speed."
Vargas also likes his demeanor in the pool.
"He's a real calm, confident player and doesn't get rattled," he said. "He has a short memory. If there's a mistake, it's not a problem."
Bowen credits much of that calmness to playing against top competition during the summer on an almost daily basis.
"My opponents were bigger, stronger, faster and more experienced than most of the people I've played against," Bowen said. "But being able to see some of their mistakes and see how I can beat people, I can translate my success internationally to success at home. I definitely feel I improved. Toward the end, I kind of realized I can slow down and control the game a lot more than I have in the past."
Stanford (7-2) is coming of a tough 14-12 defeat at No. 5 Pacific, but hosts Santa Clara in its home opener Saturday at 5 p.m. While winning the MPSF crown is always a top priority, there is added incentive this season. Stanford will host the NCAA Championships, Dec. 7-9.
"I'm really excited about the NCAA's being held here and our shot at making them," said Bowen, a product design major. "I think we have a really good team -- probably one of the best starting six and the most depth compared to every team. I think we have a really good shot at the title."
Asked what he enjoys most when he's not in the pool, Bowen didn't hesitate.
"Power naps are wonderful," he said.