Bears crush competition at Cal Bear Invitational

Senior attacker Ivan Rackov scored seven goals in Cal’s 21-3 rout of Santa Clara on Saturday. Rackov was the National Player of the Year last season.
Eugene W. Lau/Staff
Senior attacker Ivan Rackov scored seven goals in Cal’s 21-3 rout of Santa Clara on Saturday. Rackov was the National Player of the Year last season.

With a little over seven minutes left in the second quarter of Saturday’s match versus Santa Clara, Marin Balarin saw a shot that was too good to pass up.

After the opposing goalie brought the ball out to middle of the pool, the junior attacker easily stole the interception. The goalie was too far outside the zone to do any defending, and Balarin suddenly had a clear shot at the goal. With little buildup or hesitation, he pumped up and lobbed the ball straight into the opposite end of the pool.

Then, amidst cheers from the crowd, Balarin held up his index finger and turned half circle, first toward the spectators, then toward his team, letting everyone know that this weekend belonged to the Bears.

The No. 2 Cal men’s water polo team swept its competition at Saturday’s Cal Bear Invitational at Spieker Aquatics Center, nabbing a 16-5 win over No. 13 Davis and a 21-3 upending of No. 14 Santa Clara.

While the Bears were expected to top both teams this weekend, coach Kirk Everist didn’t let his team become complacent.

“You hope your team doesn’t react poorly to the expectation of an easy game,” he said. “Even with a large margin, do (my players) stay disciplined? No matter the opportunity, the approach should be the same.”

The Bears approached this weekend with particular zeal, eager to finally compete against another team and work out any lineup kinks before the season picks up.

The result was nothing short of total Cal domination.

With a few athletes still abroad at international competition, the Bears used both matchups to find their rhythm and adjust the lineup rotations; still, even with its own missing links, Cal never let the other teams gain a lead. The Bears scored more goals (six) in the first quarter than Davis did in the entire 16-5 tilt. Seniors Luka Saponjic, and National Player of the Year Ivan Rackov each nabbed multiple points; Rackov paced the team with three assists and three steals as well.

“I didn’t want to catch myself being asleep, not even for a second,” Rackov said. “Anytime I felt myself slacking, I signaled to Coach and got a sub, and waited to get fresh before going back.”

In the afternoon routing of the Broncos, Cal deftly handled the competition in the first seven minutes of game time before unleashing an 8-0 drive in the second quarter to lead the team to its 21-3 victory. Santa Clara’s moments of redemption were few: an attempt to mirror Balarin’s mid-pool shot bounced off the goal post, while an aggressive effort in the beginning of the fourth quarter came too late.

In fact, with such a comfortable lead in both games, Cal was able to dig deep throughout its bench and give multiple players — including quite a few freshmen — a chance to take to the water.

Athletes such as Luka Ivanovic and Blake Kelly got the chance to play in their very first college game. Balarin started for the first time in his career, while junior transfer Ayal Keren notched two goals in his inaugural matches with the Bears.

“We’ve got some new faces,” Everist said. “It’s exciting for them to get into a game, and it’s important for us to get an idea of what they can do.”