The Cal women’s water polo team showed something this weekend that hasn’t been seen much since last year: a stifling defense.
In last season’s run to the national title match, the Bears prided themselves on their defense; however, that defensive prowess has only come in bursts this year.
No. 4 Cal finally returned to form Saturday, beating No. 8 San Jose State 8-3 at the Spieker Aquatics Center.
“Defense has always been an ability of ours,” said junior Breda Vosters. “Last year it was our strongest asset. This year, we have been a little off lately, but we are getting back to it.”
The Bears (12-2, 2-0 in the MPSF) were relentless in their half of the pool throughout the game, allowing only three goals to the high-powered Spartans. Cal made defensive stop after defensive stop with help from keepers junior Lindsay Dorst and freshman Savanna Smith, who each had five saves.
“We had more intensity on defense,” said coach Richard Corso. “A little bit better individual and a little bit better team play.”
Often the Spartans wouldn’t even move the ball deep into the Bears half, forcing them into multiple undesirable shot attempts. When the Bears weren’t swarming to the ball and forcing the Spartans into a turnover, Dorst or Smith were rising out of the water to deny every shot San Jose State could muster.
“We were helping back and everybody was quick on their toes to get back when the ball was entered,” Vosters said.
The glare from the afternoon sun was not the only thing that blinded San Jose State. The Bears’ constant pressure blurred the Spartan’s vision, causing passes to go astray and stalling their offense. Whenever a Spartan swimmer had a little bit of space, a Cal athlete would quickly close the gap.
“We showed a new card today,” said senior Elizabeth McLaren. “We were pressing and fronting sets.”
The Bears were able to maintain their stingy defense throughout the contest due to the frequent mass substitutions by Corso, who would bring in five fresh athletes off their bench during their timeout to replace the tired Bears swimmers.
Corso’s confidence in his deep and talented bench set the Cal swimmers loose in the pool to track down every Spartan and shut them down. The Bears effectively turned their tough defense into a quick strike offense, scoring on three-man counterattacks on multiple occasions.
“When we make those steals, we set the pace of the game,” Mclaren said.
Vosters single handedly matched the scoring output of San Jose State in the first quarter alone, finding the back of the net three times. At halftime, the Bears led 6-1 and were able to cruise to victory.
Cal knows it needs to carry over the defense from this weekend forward if it wants to be successful, especially in the upcoming UCI Invitational Feb. 25-26 filled with top teams in the nation.
“(Defense) is what we are expected to do and what we have to do to be successful this year,” Corso said.