Cal senior Elizabeth McLaren was streaking down the pool as the late afternoon light cast shadows on the Spieker Aquatics Center.
With each powerful stroke, McLaren was able to catch a glimpse of her teammates advancing the ball toward Loyola Marymount’s net. She was battling not only the defender hot on her heels but also the exhaustion of having played three matches in a span of 24 hours.
McLaren beat the Lion defender down the pool, received a pass streaking towards the net and blasted a shot past the LMU keeper. Cal 8, LMU 6; 1:58 remaining in the match. That goal would end up being the last score in the contest.
“That’s a big play,” coach Richard Corso said. “We had opportunities like that the whole first half, but the girls finally figured it out.”
With McLaren’s goal, the No. 2 Cal women’s water polo team sealed the victory in its closest match of the year so far and won the marquee matchup of the California Speedo Invitational en route to a perfect record this weekend.
The Bears (8-0) fell behind early to the Lions, 2-1, but rallied behind key defensive stops and four goals from junior Breda Vosters, who had just returned from an injury.
“Vosters is trying to get back in a rhythm,” Corso said. “Her confidence is back but she still needs to have a better rhythm. This was a good weekend for her.”
Although Cal went into the fourth quarter with only a two-goal lead, the Bears survived an exclusion with 3:12 left and then had a strong defensive possession with 1:25 left in the game.
“The girls said, ‘OK, this is the last quarter and let’s put this together, let’s stop messing around and put it in gear,’ and we were able to do that,” Corso said. “We haven’t had that type of confidence and arrogance before. It’s good to see.”
Cal began the weekend strong by defeating Pomona, 21-4, and Cal Baptist, 14-6, in its back-to-back on Friday.
The Bears jumped out to an early 4-0 lead against Cal Baptist and lead 8-2 at halftime. Defensively, Cal was able to force the Lancers into nine shots coming with 10 seconds or less left on the shot clock. Although the defense made progress in the Baptist game, the Bears had lapses at the end of each quarter when they almost allowed the Lancers to score on their last possession of each period.
The Bears finished the tournament by easily handling Cal State Monterey Bay, 21-3.
“We did a good job of moving the ball around and challenging the defense in their zones,” senior Jessica Robinson said.
While the matches the Bears easily won gave their substitutes playing time and allowed the team to work on tactics, the team will focus on the LMU contest in training this week, especially after No. 1 Stanford disposed of the Lancers, 17-2, while the Bears had trouble.
Although weariness may have been an issue after their second straight weekend of four games in two days, the Bears understand that there is no excuse for making the game so tight.
“We are picking our spots a little too much out there. We can play harder and pace ourselves,”Corso said. “The girls were fatigued but we have to fight through that.”