Even with the toughest part of their schedule completed, the Bears still aren’t out of the woods.
The second half of the season begins with the No. 5 Bears hosting No. 9 Long Beach State at Spieker Aquatics Complex in Berkeley this Saturday at noon.
Cal (10-6, 1-2) is coming off its biggest win of the year thus far, in which the team crushed No. 4 Stanford, 14-8, in the Big Splash. The victory was the team’s first conference win and a sorely needed one at that.
The game also signaled the end of the team’s hardest month of water polo.
Since mid-September, the Bears have gone through two massive tournaments — the NorCal and SoCal Invitationals — in which they faced the top teams in the nation.
Following each of those tournaments, the program squared off against No. 1 USC and No. 2 UCLA, losing both in one-goal heartbreakers.
From now until the MPSF Tournament in late November, though, Cal’s schedule is lighter.
The first team up in the easier stretch in the schedule, the 49ers (18-4, 0-1), should be a game for the Bears to take. Though their record is better than Cal’s, theonly top-10 team they’ve beaten was then-No. 9 Loyola Marymount.
Long Beach will look to make this weekend a challenge with their two top scorers. Their leader in goals, junior Dan Matulis, is eighth in the conference this season with 53 goals in 22 games.
In the team’s latest 13-7 loss to the Trojans on Oct. 19, Matulis scored twice against a vaunted USC squad that has kept opponents to only 4.8 goals per game.By comparison, the Bears have allowed 6.9 goals per game.
The 49ers will also send former Cal player Spencer White. Named as the Daily Cal’s Fall 2009 Best Newcomer, the senior is currently 11th in the conference in scoring with 47 goals in 22 games.
Likewise, the Bears will offer their own prolific scorers, starting with junior Collin Smith. The All-American won his second MPSF Player of the Week award for his efforts last Saturday against Stanford. He scored six times in that game, raising his season total to a team-high 46 goals in 16 matches.
Sophomore attacker Aleksa Saponjic will be working next to Smith on the attacking front. The All-American spent his summer helping Serbia to a bronze medal in the 2012 London Olympics and now is third in scoring on the team with 25 goals in 13 games.
Though both sides offer plenty of offensive firepower, Cal’s defense should be the highlight of the game.
Against Stanford, Cal utilized its suffocating defense to launch effective counterattacks. In the second quarter, the Bears shined through, shutting down the Cardinal offense and proceeded to go on a 4-0 scoring streak.
In the grand scheme of the season, another win or loss won’t matter much to Cal. The Bears won’t be getting into the NCAA playoffs through an at-large bid; they’ll have to win the MPSF Tournament for a spot.
But every win until then builds confidence, and running the table starting on Saturday will surely help.
Vincent Tzeng covers men’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected]
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