The No. 2 men’s water polo team started out the weekend on a note that was not only high but also familiar as it beat Vanguard, 27-3, on Saturday at the NorCal Invitational in Stockton, Calif.
A day and a half later, a new pattern of season play was rapidly unfolding.
In the Bears’ first loss of the season, No. 3 UCLA broke a fourth-quarter tie to take the game, 6-5, Sunday afternoon at Pacific’s Chris Kjeldsen Pool.
“Our defense was good, but we also made critical errors where we didn’t finish out,” coach Kirk Everist said. “Errors like our defense not getting out to a guy quickly enough when we could, little things UCLA was able to exploit.”
Although both teams struggled offensively, UCLA’s defense took the upper hand throughout the match by shutting down Cal attackers and handing them their lowest score of the season thus far. Even when the Bears held a 6-on-5 advantage they were unable to turn the tide in their favor.
“There were moments there where we got a little anxious,” Everist said. “We needed to slow down plays. We got a little quick, trying to make a play that wasn’t necessarily there.”
Nonetheless, despite little rest between matches and tough MPSF opponents, the Bears (5-1) finished out the weekend in third place with a 3-1 tournament record.
In its first match Saturday morning against Vanguard, Cal sent its third consecutive opponent into swift submission at Delta College’s June Fergusson Pool. The Bears deftly overpowered the unranked Lions. Reigning National Player of the Year Ivan Rackov led the team with seven goals, including a third-quarter hat trick, with Luka Saponjic close behind with six points.
Later that day, Cal hung on to an 8-7 win over Pepperdine despite going scoreless in the final quarter. The Bears outscored the Waves 8-5 in the first three quarters, and junior Justin Parsons blocked two key shots in the fourth to save the match for his team.
Winning streak still intact, Cal prepared to face UCLA the next day.
The first three quarters of the midday Sunday match were almost a mirror dance. Both teams notched a goal in the first seven minutes before UCLA pulled away in the second quarter to take the lead, 3-1. However, Rackov singlehandedly overcame the deficit with two goals in the third to bring the score back to a tie.
The fourth quarter was a back-and-forth rally, and Luka Saponjic’s two points weren’t enough to halt the Bruins.
From there, the Bears played for third place against No. 4 Stanford on Sunday in their final match of the invitational.
The Bears were down in the fourth quarter again but had learned their lesson. The team pulled through to win, 8-7.