Bryan Williams
Men's Water Polo

Into the Final

STANFORD, Calif. – Stanford returned to the NCAA men's water polo championship for the first time in a decade by beating UC San Diego, 16-7, in the semifinals Saturday at Avery Aquatic Center.

Blake Parrish scored four goals and Oliver Lewis had 15 saves to lead Stanford (21-2) into the final against USC (29-3), an 8-7 winner over UCLA, on Sunday at 3 p.m., also at Avery.

Stanford will be seeking its first title since 2002 and its 11th championship overall. Only women's tennis (19) and men's tennis (17) have won more national titles at Stanford.

Stanford and USC have split their two meetings, with Stanford outscoring the Trojans, 22-21.

"We've completed a lot of goals this season," Lewis said. "We've circled a lot of dates on the board, and we have checked those off. Now, we have one more big goal. We're not done. We're not going to become complacent because of those past successes."

Said Parrish, "It's going to be a tough emotional game. For us playing at home and for me senior year, our first time in the championship, it's going to be heated and I'm sure really exciting."

UCSD (20-6) hung tough for much of the first half, closing within 6-5 with 1:35 left in the second quarter. However, sophomore Tyler Abramson scored a left-handed goal on a power play with 25 seconds left in the half to trigger a run of five unanswered goals – with two by Bennett Williams.

On one first-quarter shot, Stanford's Dylan Woodhead's shot hit the bar and then deflected off the back of the goalkeeper's head for a score.

On another play, with Stanford down a man, Hallock stole the ball and made a spinning backhand pass to himself to evade three defenders. The play not only spoke to the talent level of the Olympian, but also to the tenacity Stanford plays with in those situations.

"One of our performance goals is to play well in five-man, to thrive in that part of the game," said John Vargas, the Dunlevie Family Director of Men's Water Polo. "Wanting to be excited to play in five-man shows our toughness. If you want to see a tough resilient team, let's see how they play when they're down a man. That's one of the great things that this team has done all year."

Moments UCSD ended Stanford's 5-0 run, Woodhead ignited another Stanford surge, of four more unanswered goals. When its 9-1 run ended midway through the fourth quarter, Stanford was ahead, 15-6.

With Stanford on a roll, Woodhead blocked a point-blank shot, as Stanford and Lewis turned away yet another Triton second-half effort. As the ball bounced off the pool deck, Woodhead unleashed a full-throated triumphal scream.

"Our identity is feeding off of our defense," Lewis said. "Stops on defense push us straight into our counterattack. When I make a block, I get fired up and try to push the team the other direction and score a goal."

On Lewis, "He's an absolute stud," Parrish said. "He's been carrying us all season. In every single big game we've had, he's had the most amazing saves."

When Stanford finally was able to create space in the second half, sometimes leading to breakaway goals by Parrish, it usually was fueled by a big save or steal. Now, Stanford finds itself in the championship game for the 21st time.

"We've had a great season, but we haven't accomplished every one of our goals yet," Hallock said. "That final goal can be accomplished tomorrow. That's all we're focusing on right now. We're not focusing on how successful we've been. All that matters for us is tomorrow."