A minute into the second quarter, the score sat tied at 2-2. The No. 5 Cal women’s water polo team had survived the first quarter of Saturday’s match. Up until that point the team kept pace with No. 3 USC, a squad it had already lost to twice this year. Things were looking up for the Bears.
Then their world came crashing down.
Behind sniper-like shots and defensive stops, USC went on a 6-1 run that spanned the second and third quarters. Cal couldn’t recover. The Bears eventually fell 10-7 at McDonald’s Swim Stadium in Los Angeles.
For Cal, the loss resulted in a drop to fourth in the MPSF standings going into the final two weeks of the regular season.
Rankings were a dire concern for both teams even before the starting whistle. Before Saturday, both teams were tied for third in MPSF — Saturday would be the ultimate tiebreaker.
Cal (16-6, 3-2 in the MPSF) was well aware that the match carried tremendous weight and came out firing. They played with intensity and purpose from the first whistle, avoiding the slow starts that plagued them all year.
USC (17-3, 4-1) opened the scoring during a 6-on-5 advantage with a shot from junior Dominque Sardo.
However, Cal didn’t concede, as in many other first periods this season. Senior Elizabeth McLaren blasted a shot home and tied it up 1-1 after a hard-fought and defensive first quarter. Another score by USC was nullified by junior Breda Vosters to begin the second quarter, leaving the teams neck and neck until the 6:04 mark.
Yet the Trojans’ stingy defense and offensive balance broke through the tie. Behind five saves from USC sophomore goalie Flora Bolonyai, on route to 10 saves for the day, the Trojans took control of the contest.
USC’s leading scorers, sophomore Kaleigh Gilchrist and freshman Monica Vavic, finally beat Cal junior keeper Lindsay Dorst in the second quarter. Although Dorst had nine saves on the day, including a block on a five-meter penalty shot, she could not check the the 13th and 17th ranked scorers in the MPSF.
Gilchrist won a battle inside and fired a goal only minutes before Vavic unleashed a slider into the Cal net. McLaren tried her best to support the reeling Bears by scoring another goal, yet her efforts proved to futile as the lead ballooned to 6-3 by halftime.
Even after halftime Cal could not regroup and stop the USC onslaught, surrendering two more goals to push the score to an insurmountable 8-3 chasm.
Finally the Bears woke up and slowed the attack, yet by that point it was too late. Down 10-4 in the final quarter, Cal scored the final three goals of the contest. Beyond the two goals from McLaren and Vosters, Cal’s offense was unproductive and the fourth quarter goals were insignificant.
USC was able to drop Cal for the third time this year by taking advantage of their inconsistency. The Bear’s strong start was quickly replaced by a poor second quarter.
Cal fell to 0-5 against top five opponents this year and the road will only get tougher to finish the season with No. 1 UCLA and No. 2 Stanford looming on the horizon.