The Cal men’s water polo team filled in the missing pieces splendidly, sweeping all three of its games at the Golden Bear Invitational against top-15 opponents.
The No. 3 Bears, led by their young talent, beat No. 15 Santa Clara, No. 13 UC Davis and No. 7 Pacific in three scrimmages on Sunday at Spieker Aquatics Complex.
The three wins verified the Bears’ preseason hopes to continue remaining a powerhouse in the world of collegiate water polo. After losing 12 seniors at the end of last season, including National Player of the Year Ivan Rackov, the Bears came into the weekend unsure of exactly how the new team would fit together.
“It was good to get some games in against other people,” head coach Kirk Everist said. “The guys played pretty well.”
The Bears utilized the scrimmages as a pressure-free test of their offseason training before they begin their season next weekend at the Princeton Invitational in New Jersey against East Coast teams.
“We haven’t scrimmaged a lot so it was the first time we had really gone up and down,” Everist said. “I’m pretty pleased with where we are right now going into next week’s real games it’s a good place to start.”
The Bears definitely found some things to work on before they leave for the tournament. Cal struggled early on with its positioning on counter attacks and taking advantage of shot opportunities.
In the first game against Santa Clara, the team had problems settling into its offensive positioning when the Bears were not up on a counter attack.
“On our transitions, sometimes I wasn’t happy,” Everist said. “When we don’t have a counter attack, sometimes we don’t have an awareness of where to move the ball quickly to get into position. Sometimes we’re passing the ball just to pass the ball.”
Clock management also plagued the Bears throughout the day. The team sometimes forced shots in the closing seconds of any quarter, which allowed opponents to receive extra possessions and scoring opportunities from the Bears.
UC Davis took advantage of the lapse, scoring twice at the end of quarters, including a five meter penalty shot.
“We need to work on when to be aggressive and when not to be aggressive,” Everist said, “especially in terms of getting out of a quarter.”
Despite a limited number of mistakes, the Bears’ overall outlook was overwhelmingly positive, especially by the strong play of their young players coming through the ranks.
Sophomore defender Luka Ivanovic scored four goals against UC Davis, securing his position as a leading scorer for the team this year.
“Luka has the ability,” said Everist, “it’s just a matter of taking the right shots. He did a great job doing what we’ve been working on in practice.”
Max Schell, the only true freshman on the team, contributed to the strong play by all of the Bears’ centers throughout the scrimmages Sunday.
“I got what I thought I would get out of them,” Everist said of his young players. “They were tough, hard nosed, aggressive kids. It’s just a matter of getting them more experienced at our level with the team.”