With the way the Bears’ season has been going, the Big Splash might just be the Big Flop.
At 9:30 a.m., right before the Big Game, the No. 7 Bears (9-6, 0-2) will host Stanford at Spieker Aquatics Complex.
The Big Splash will be the second matchup of the year between the two teams, who last met on Sept. 16 in the NorCal Invitational. Only hours after an overtime loss to UCLA, the Bears dropped a difficult third-place match to the Cardinal, 9-8.
That loss began Cal’s fall from the top – since then, the Bears have dropped four spots in the rankings, a huge drop in collegiate water polo.
“Obviously we should’ve had a better start,” senior team captain Marin Balarin said. “At least we know now where we are and we aren’t going to worry about how high we are ranked.”
While the team dismissed its recent losing streak as nothing serious, history tells a different story.
Cal hasn’t been ranked this low in men’s water polo since the calamitous end to the 2008 season, when it similarly dropped from No. 3 to a two-place tie for No. 6. That year, the Bears lost every game in the MPSF Tournament, along with their chance at a national championship.
This year’s Bears’winless record in conference play is also their worst since 2008, when they dropped their first three MPSF games. Though their two conference losses were to the top two teams, No. 1 USC and then-No.2 UCLA, their other defeats have not inspired any confidence.
At the SoCal Invitational in late September, the Bears lost to UC Irvine and Pacific, two teams they routinely dominate. Only two weeks ago, Cal crushed the Anteaters in the NorCal tournament 14-7.
These losses are all the more reason the Bears consider the Big Splash an absolute must win.
Record-wise, they recognize one more game in the win or loss column means little. With a disappointing 9-6 record, the only way they’ll be getting to the NCAA finals is by winning the MPSF tournament.
“It is for sure our only opportunity to make the NCAAs,” sophomore attacker Aleksa Saponjic said. “Our team hasn’t won a big tournament in a few years, so we need this win more to build our confidence.”
Confidence is key, and the losses have kept the Bears locked out. In the past two years, nine of their 10 losses have come by one goal difference. A more upsetting fact in addition is the that the Bears are letting the games slip through their fingers.
“We were up against USC and UCLA, but then we have had late game collapses,” Balarin said. “So against Stanford we need to prove to ourselves that we can beat those top teams.”
Both Balarin and Saponjic are expected to be the Bears’ top scorers into Saturday. The two paced Cal in their last game with three and two goals respectively.
Even so, both expect the focal point of the game to be on defense.
“Last year we beat them in the Big Splash because we only allowed them to score four times,” Saponjic said. “Our defense is our best offense against them.”
Vincent Tzeng covers men’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected]
Comments should remain on topic, concerning the article or blog post to which they are connected. Brevity is encouraged. Posting under a pseudonym is discouraged, but permitted. The Daily Cal encourages readers to voice their opinions respectfully in regard to the readers, writers and contributors of The Daily Californian. Comments are not pre-moderated, but may be removed if deemed to be in violation of this policy. Click here to read the full comment policy.