Bret Bonanni returns for his senior season as one of the top offensive water polo players in the world, let alone at the collegiate level. He's on target to surpass Tony Azevedo's career scoring record at Stanford, which is also the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation record and, likely, the NCAA record.
It's no coincidence that Bonanni and Azevedo are teammates on the United States' senior national team that will compete at the 2016 Rio Olympics. It would be unfair to both athletes to compare them though. As Cardinal men's water polo coach John Vargas pointed out, it was two different eras and they are two different players.
"If you went by goals per game, Tony would still be the best," Vargas said. "It was different scheduling. Bret is certainly one of the most dynamic offensive players, though. He will break the scoring record. Bret is incredible in that he brings it every day."
Azevedo is also a four-time national Player of the Year and has been on four U.S. Olympic teams.
"He's going to his fifth Olympics and he's been to eight world championships," Vargas added. "You could see it even then he was something special. What he doesn't get enough credit for is his passing. To this day he's still so good. He's an amazing player."
Bonanni and the Cardinal (26-4 last year and the defending MPSF champion) kick off the season this weekend with five matches in two days at the Bruno Classic, hosted by Brown University in Providence, R.I. Games will also be played at Harvard.
Bonanni, a national player of the year finalist in 2014, needs 67 goals to surpass Azevedo. He's averaged 96.5 goals over the past two years. Azevedo is the only other Cardinal to score as many as 95 goals in a year. Azevedo and Bonanni own five of Stanford's top eight single-season scoring marks, including the top four.
In addition to one of the top scorers in the nation, Stanford also returns one of the top defenders in the nation in junior Jackson Kimbell, who also spent his summer traveling the world with the national team.
"You're going to hear about him this fall," Vargas said. "He played well last year but was overshadowed a bit by Bret and (grad) Alex Bowen. He's our center defender and he does it well. He is critical to our success."
Junior All-America goalkeeper Drew Holland, who has national team experience, returns to give the Cardinal a formidable group of players to build around. Holland was slowed by illness last year and is back at full strength.
"He had great freshman and sophomore seasons and I expect great things out of him this year," Vargas said. "He's been training with us and doing well."
The biggest question mark will be filling Bowen's position. He is third on Stanford's all-time scoring list, and has been a big part of the U.S. national team, as well.
BJ Churnside, third on the team in scoring last year with 45 goals, is the only other senior on the roster. He'll be counted on to help fill the gap left by Bowen. Churnside is more than capable and has played his best at critical moments. He was a second team All-America pick and a three-time NCAA all-tournament selection.
Juniors Adam Abdulhamid, Connor Stapleton and Reid Chase return with quality experience and will be expected to carry more of the load this time around. Adam Warmoth, Griffin Bolan, Kyle Weikert and Charlie Wiser add depth to the junior class.
Expect sophomore Cody Smith to make a bigger splash this season. He tied with Churnside for third on the team with 45 goals last year and was second among freshmen in the MPSF with a 1.50 goals per game average.
Smith made an immediate impact last year, recording a hat trick in each of his first four games. He later netted six goals in a contest.
Sam Pfeil, who scored 23 goals a year ago, Justin Roberto and backup goalie Oliver Lewis complete the sophomore class.
A solid group of redshirt freshmen are ready to jump in for the Cardinal, led by Mitchel Mendoza, Sacred Heart Prep grad Harrison Enright, Grant Sivesind, Grady Williams, CJ Porter and Spencer Rogers.
True freshmen Marco Stanchi and Blake Parrish could see significant action right away.
"Marko has a great presence and has shown he can play," Vargas said. "I knew Blake could play."
SHP grad Nelson Perla-Ward will use his redshirt year.
The Cardinal opens the season ranked fourth in the national poll and was picked to finish third in the MPSF by a vote of its coaches. Stanford finished third in the NCAA last year, dropping a 12-11 decision to USC in the semifinal round. UCLA beat the Trojans, 9-8, to earn the national title.
In a sport where only six teams compete for the final four spots, every match is important.
"It's critically important," Vargas said. "You can't stub your toe. UCLA is really strong; USC and California are great teams. Pacific and Long Beach State had great years and all those teams are just getting better. At the very least, we want to make sure to be in position for an at-large berth."
Four of the five teams Stanford plays this weekend are ranked among the top 20, including host Brown, at No. 11.
The Cardinal opens with MIT, which features Sacred Heart Prep grad Zach Churukin,a junior, Menlo School grad Nikhil Bhatia and Palo Alto grad Lucas Novak.
Harvard features coach Ted Minnis, formerly of Castilleja, and Stanford grad Cassie Churnside as his assistant coach. SHP grad Grant Harvey is a freshman.
Menlo-Atherton grad Max Wilder is a senior at Bucknell.
"We're still working on pieces of our game and the guys are working hard," Vargas said. "We need a few weeks to fine tune things."
2015 STANFORD MEN'S WATER POLO
Date Opponent Time
Saturday at MIT# noon
Saturday at Harvard# 4 p.m.
Sunday at Bucknell# 6:15 a.m.
Sunday at St. Francis (N.Y.)# 8:45 a.m.
Sunday at Brown# 12:30 p.m.
Sept. 19 vs. NorCal Invitational% TBA
Sept. 20 vs. NorCal Invitational% TBA
Sept. 26 at Concordia* noon
Sept. 26 at UC Davis* 4 p.m.
Sept. 27 at Santa Clara* noon
Sept. 27 at San Jose St.* 4 p.m.
Oct. 3 at USC TBA
Oct. 10 at SoCal Tournament
Oct. 11 at SoCal Tournament
Oct. 17 vs. UCLA TBA
Oct. 18 at Pacific noon
Oct. 24 vs. UCSB TBA
Oct. 25 at San Jose St. noon
Oct. 31 at LBeach St. noon
Nov. 1 at UC Irvine noon
Nov. 6 vs. Pepperdine 7 p.m.
Nov. 10 vs. Santa Clara 7 p.m.
Nov. 16 vs. Cal TBA
Nov. 20 at MPSF Tournament+
Nov. 21 at MPSF Tournament+
Nov. 22 at MPSF Tournament+
Dec. 5 NCAA semifinals+
Dec. 6 NCAA championship+
# Bruno Classic
% at Stanford
* at UC Davis
+ Los Angeles