Bears bite back at Bruins with invite win

Men's Water Polo
Eugene W. Lau/Staff

Two weeks ago, the No. 3 Cal men’s water polo team fell to No. 2 UCLA when a Bruin attacker broke a 5-5 tie with 50 seconds left in the match. That loss was the Bears’ first of the season and the pedestal for their third place finish at the NorCal Invitational.

This weekend at the SoCal Invitational, the only other MPSF-sponsored tournament in the season, the Bears (10-1) tasted poetic justice after an 8-4 defeat of the Bruins on Sunday in Los Alamitos, Calif.

UCLA (9-2) capitalized on a Cal ejection within the first minute of play by earning the first point of the game. However, Bears senior attacker Luka Saponjic answered with a goal of his own. The two teams traded another set of goals before ending the quarter with a 2-2 tie.

In the NorCal game, UCLA ended the half with a 3-1 lead. This time, Cal’s utility Zach Greenwood took the only point of the second quarter to give the Bears a 3-2 lead at halftime.

Unwilling to relinquish another game to UCLA, Cal dominated the second half. Senior attacker Ivan Rackov bookended the third period with two points, and Saponjic notched another goal as well.

The Bears never let the deficit get within two points in the second half. The Bruins tried to keep themselves in action by bringing the score to 6-4 at the onset of the fourth, but Cal sealed the match, 8-4, when Cory Nasoff scored an even-strength goal halfway through the final period.

The UCLA win was only one instance of Cal domination this weekend. The Bears opened up play at the invite with a 16-8 trouncing of No. 15 Santa Clara. This game marked the third time on the season that the Bears faced off against the Broncos (10-7), and all three tilts ended in decisive victories for Cal. In Saturday’s match, junior Marin Balarin proved a crucial asset at center by leading the team with four goals.

Later that day, Cal faced off against another familiar opponent.

The Bears played No. 6 Pacific on Sept. 24 in a nonconference matchup that resulted in a close 8-6 win for Cal. Saturday’s match against the Tigers was no different. Cal came from behind to come out the victor of an 11-9 contest.

Senior attacker Charlie Steffens scored the first point of the match, but after that the Bears not only failed to maintain that early lead but also struggled to keep up with Pacific, closing out the first half of the game at a 5-5 tie. However, the Tigers quickly took the third period to bring the score up to 8-6.

But the Bears came back to shatter Pacific’s lead by earning five goals in the final eight minutes of play.

Three of those points were the result of capitalizing on 6-on-5 advantages, something coach Kirk Everist has been working to improve in the last few weeks.

Meanwhile, Cal continued to shine at defense. Although Pacific managed to tie the game up once more, junior goalie Justin Parsons held the opponents to zero points in the second half of the fourth quarter, notching four saves in the fourth period to bring that total to 14 on the game.

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