Wild cards await Cal on SoCal road trip

Eugene W. Lau/File
Over the course of the year, the Bears have outscored their opponents, 128-40.

If there’s one recurring theme of the No. 3 Cal men’s water polo season thus far, it’s that there’s no such thing as a new face. The squad has already played teams like Pacific and Santa Clara multiple times; in fact, only four of the thirteen games the Bears have played thus far were against one-time opponents.

Which is why it comes as such as surprise that coach Kirk Everist admitted he didn’t know much about No. 9 UC San Diego, a squad Cal (11-2) will battle on Sunday morning at Canyonview Aquatic Center in San Diego in the final game of its SoCal road trip. The first two tilts are against No. 2 UCLA on Friday night in Los Angeles before heading south to face No. 14 Long Beach State on Saturday afternoon.

“We haven’t seen much of them,” Everist said of San Diego. “But we’re already down there, spent the money, and it was a good game to pick up. They’re one of the top teams in the WWPA.”

The WWPA conference is a close second to the MPSF in terms of West Coast talent. Many of the teams, such as No. 10 UC Davis and No. 12 Loyola Marymount, jostle with MPSF squads for top-20 rankings.

When Everist planned out the season, he knew that the Bears were already going to play UC Davis at the Cal Bear Invitational season opener, and there was a strong (though ultimately disproven) possibility that they would face off against LMU in an MPSF-sponsored tournament.

Scheduling a game against the Tritons (11-3) ensured play against at least two of the top three teams in that conference.

But San Diego is still a wild card of sorts for Cal. The team hasn’t gotten much of an opportunity — through either tape or live action — to see how their opponents play.

Yet while the Tritons are known for their speed and mobility, it’s the atmosphere of the crowd itself that the team is looking forward to.

“I don’t think a lot of their athletic programs are as highly ranked as their water polo,” senior attacker Cory Nasoff saido. “When they play they get a bunch of rowdy fans.”

According to Nasoff, there’s another reason behind the raucous nature of the fans: the beer garden. It’s a section that’s technically off the pool deck, and therefore the perfect place to get a little bit rowdy.

But Sunday afternoon’s San Diego match is only one-third of this weekend’s trip. Tonight’s match against UCLA marks the Bears’ conference opener.

Although the season is still relatively fresh, Cal has already built up quite the rivalry with the Bruins (10-2). At the NorCal Invitational semifinals, UCLA handed the Bears a 6-5 loss when an attacker broke a 5-5 tie with 50 seconds left on the clock. The Bruins then went on to take Cal’s No. 2 spot in NCAA rankings. However, the Bears came back two weeks later at the SoCal Invitational to upend the conference foes 8-4.

Both teams are undoubtedly looking for bragging rights this weekend.

“The winner gets a little bit of a jump over the other team for the rest of the season,” Everist said. “It’s a boost going into the first games of the season.”