The No. 4 Cal women’s water polo team came into its match against No. 1 Stanford riding a wave of momentum. The Bears (17-7, 4-3 in the MPSF) had surpassed No. 5 Arizona State in the rankings after earning their biggest win of the year against then No. 1 UCLA. If there was ever a time to break a 30-game losing streak against the Cardinal, Cal thought it would be Saturday.
It wasn’t. The final score read 11-5 in favor of the Cardinal in its 31st straight victory in the Big Splash. The streak was never in doubt at the Avery Aquatic Center, in large part due to the tremendous first half put together by Stanford (20-1, 6-0).
Seventeen seconds into the match, Stanford scored. Then again, and again. After 13 minutes, Cal found itself down 6-0.
Cardinal freshman Kiley Neushul started the scoring spree with a five-meter penalty shot. Although Cal keeper Lindsay Dorst denied another penalty shot 47 seconds later on route to 6 saves, she couldn’t prevent the team from falling behind by three after one quarter.
To begin the second quarter, Stanford came out firing again, scoring another three goals by the the second period’s halfway mark. Cal couldn’t beat Cardinal keeper Kate Baldoni, who recorded 10 saves on the day.
Junior Dana Ochsner eventually found the back of the net with two minutes remaining in the second quarter for the reeling Bears. Yet despite finally making a dent in Stanford’s armor, the Bears’ 6-1 halftime deficit was a daunting one to overcome.
Cal showed some fight coming out of the break, outscoring the Cardinal 3-2 in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, Cal continued to battle when Ochsner netted her second goal of the game to pull the Bears within three.
Yet similar to other games in which the Bears started slowly, Cal couldn’t muster up the energy to dig themselves completely out of the early hole. In the next two minutes Stanford went on a 3-0 run capped off by Neushul’s fifth goal, sinking the Bear’s comeback hopes.
The contest seemed to epitomize Cal’s season to date. The Bears played well, yet in road games against top-tier opponents the Bears have fallen short. In these contests, first-period struggles have placed the Bears in a perpetual state of playing from behind, something their patient offense can’t recuperate from.
The win against then-No. 1 UCLA two weeks ago was a big momentum boost for the team, yet the loss against its archrival may have taken some steam from its late season push.
The team finished fifth in the MPSF and therefore received the same seed in the upcoming MPSF tournament. Starting off against No. 4 Arizona State will only be the beginning of a stretch that will require Cal to beat top teams if it wants to earn that elusive NCAA bid.