For the No. 4 Cal men’s water polo team, this Friday’s 6 p.m. match will be played amidst the shadows from the buildings that surround the Spieker Aquatics pool as the sun sets across the Bay.
But the bigger shadow the Bears (14-3, 2-1 MPSF) will have to contend with is the one cast by last weekend’s 9-8 sudden death loss to No. 2 USC.
Everything the squad has practiced this week, from ball control to power plays to general fitness drills, has been in response to what the team lacked in last Saturday’s showdown.
“It’s important that we’re really focused on the next thing at hand,” Kirk Everist said. “We have another league game that’s the most important game of the season right now, essentially. Then we can move on. But we can’t do that until we beat Pepperdine.”
For Cal, this weekend’s conference match is an outlet to prove that the team is still an intimidatingly strong force in the MPSF. The best way to do that: top the Waves and tack another “W” to the season’s results.
Pepperdine is tied for second with Cal and two other schools in the MPSF and is coming off two 11-10 wins from UC Irvine and Pacific. Add on its commendable season stats (10-6, 2-1) and this match is likely to be close. As Everist and his athletes have been saying since preseason, any conference team has the potential to stage an upset.
The best response to such a threat from the Waves is to get an early jump on the competition and quickly smooth out any kinks last Saturday exposed.
The most obvious kink was the amount of turnovers Cal gave up against the Trojans, which Everist estimated was around 20. Even with extra time on the clock, the number was still too high for the Bears’ to overlook.
“When we’ve been successful, we’ve had less than 10 turnovers,” Everist said before bringing up the team’s 8-5 win over UCLA on Oct. 7. “We didn’t score any more goals on Saturday (than the UCLA game). We were just in more control.”
Throughout the week the Bears worked on better communication while in possession, as well as staying patient rather than rushing for the first available shot.
The focused corrections will undoubtedly give the Bears a midseason boost. But Pepperdine will present its own unique challenges, too. Left-handed attackers such as Matthew DeTrane mean equally strong shots from both perimeters. Center Spencer Hamby, who spent the summer competing with the USA junior national team, will stretch the Bears’ defense the second they decide to go into a zone.
Last weekend’s heartbreak has certainly been a motivating factor in practice this week, but Cal knows better than to remain bogged down in the past. Since day one the team goal has been to nab first place, and beating Pepperdine is the first step to returning to the fight against the Trojans for the highest podium.
“We want to win every single game,” National Player of the Year Ivan Rackov said. “We’re sticking to that.”