On Sunday, the Cal women’s water polo team had an opportunity to emerge from the wreckage of the UCI Invitational with a third-place victory.
There was only one problem; No. 4 Cal was facing No. 3 USC, a team the Bears had lost to in a similar third-place match at the Stanford Invite in early February.
“I didn’t think anything about playing USC again,” said Cal coach Richard Corso. “I saw it as another crack at a team in front of us. Doesn’t matter who they are. Hell, if it were Oklahoma and Texas, I wouldn’t care.”
Unfortunately for the Bears, history repeated itself and the Trojans proved to be too much once again, prevailing 9-6.
Cal (14-4, 2-0 in MPSF) started off the tournament with a 7-3 victory against No. 15 UC Santa Barbara. The Bears only held a slim 3-2 first quarter lead after poor play early on, a recurring problem that would surface in the subsequent games for Cal.
“It takes us awhile to get going,” Corso said. “We have to be patient and relaxed. We want to win so bad sometimes that it hurts us.”
Moving into the second round, Cal came face-to-face with No. 5 Arizona State and was able to pull out an 8-5 win. The squad faced more early struggles, falling behind 4-3 after the first quarter. Yet the Bears’ defense finally woke up and created multiple turnovers, leading to a 5-1 run for Cal.
“In playing better defense we got our fast break going,” Corso said.
The strong finish against the Sun Devils propelled the Bears to a berth in the semis and their first meeting against No. 1 Stanford. The game against the Cardinal was a chance for the Bears to prove that they have recovered from their drop in the rankings.
“We did deserve a fall, No. 2 to No. 4, because if you lose those games you drop in the rankings,” Corso said. “We were trying to reestablish ourselves as either one, two or three.”
Six first-period goals by Stanford quickly squashed that chance. The Cardinal cruised to an easy 13-5 victory, never letting Cal out of the early hole in which it dug itself.
“We had some great moments in the game, but there were moments we would like to try and relive,” Corso said. “We tried to win the whole game in the first quarter, and that doesn’t work.”
Losing in the semifinal, Cal found itself in the game for third once again against the Trojans. Both teams were moving the ball extremely well and were only separated by two goals, 8-6 in favor of USC, going into the last quarter.
Yet as the sun began to set, so too did the Bears hopes of revenge against the Trojans. Cal was unable find the back of the net in the fourth period, and a goal by USC with three minutes left in the contest sealed it.
“The team is going through the whole gamut of emotions, first of all upset, then angry, then refocusing,” Corso said. “We come into this thing fourth, we come out fourth.”