After three hours of practicing, the Cal women’s water polo team is still going hard at Spieker Aquatics Center late into the night. Countless drilling of counter attacks and defensive possessions only increase the Bears’ determination.
This is to be expected of the No. 2 team in the country about to enter one of its most difficult weeks of the year — starting with its first MPSF match, at home against No. 10 Hawaii on Thursday at 4:30 p.m., then traveling to Palo Alto for the Stanford Invitational.
Cal (8-0) is coming off a successful California Speedo Invitational where they swept their opponents, outscoring them 64-19.
However, the Bears struggled against Loyola Marymount, especially late in each quarter when the Lions almost scored on multiple chances. Cal was unable to seal the victory until senior Elizabeth McLaren’s goal late in the contest.
“We have been working on finishing quarters strong this week,” junior Dana Ochsner said. “When you get scored on in the last few seconds, it’s pretty demoralizing, and then you have to fight extra hard to get back into it.”
Despite the need to fix some of the team’s weaknesses, the athletes feel prepared to face the Rainbow Wahine in their season opener.
“There is a very fine line between arrogance and confidence,” junior Kirstn Mase. “I think we are a confident team, but I would never describe us as arrogant. It’s good to be confident; it’s bad to cross that line into arrogance.”
The Bears traditionally have physical and hard-fought matches against Hawaii. Last year was no different, with the teams splitting two games and scoring 24 goals total. Cal will try and showcase its talent against its highest-ranked opponent of the year to prove to the rest of the country that it deserves its ranking and last year — which included an NCAA appearance — was no fluke.
“We want to start out strong and show people we are going to be just as good as a competitor as we were last year and nothing has changed,” Ochsner said. “We are still going to fight.”
Cal will certainly have to battle this week. After facing Hawaii, the Bears will participate in the Stanford Invitational, a tournament stacked with more talent in the pool than any other invite in the country thus far.
Hosted by No. 1 Stanford, the Invitational will also showcase No. 3 USC, No. 4 UCLA, and No. 5 San Jose State.
To reach the championship game of the tournament, the Bears will have to fight through No. 13 Michigan and UCLA on Saturday, then face Hawaii again on Sunday. Cal will be guaranteed its third straight weekend of four games in two days, but with the Cardinal on the opposite side of the bracket, the Bears will have to win their first three to face their top-ranked rivals.