The race to the NCAA women’s water polo championship in May is in full force, and whichever team wins the prestigious UC Irvine Invitational has a head start.
The Cal women’s water polo team headed down to Irvine, Calif., this past weekend for the UC Irvine Invitational. The tournament featured 16 teams, all ranked within the top 20 by the Collegiate Water Polo Association.
The No. 4 Bears (12-2) emerged with a 3-1 record from the tournament and secured fifth place at UC Irvine’s Anteater Aquatics Complex.
But Cal coach Richard Corso left the tournament with a little more to be desired.
“The games we won we were expected to win, and the girls performed adequately, but we were a little disappointed with our performance against ASU,” Corso said. “That was disappointing because the team and myself felt we had the opportunity to break into the top three in the country.”
Last Saturday, the Bears lost 8-7 against No. 5 Arizona State (11-3). The Sun Devils bested the Bears in a back-and-forth battle that was tied 7-7 going into the fourth quarter. After Arizona State’s E.B. Keeve scored early in the final quarter, Cal failed to score again.
However, Corso and the team were able to find a silver lining in senior driver Emily Csikos.
“One of the positives out of that loss to ASU is that it kind of got Emily going in the right direction,” Corso said. “It was a catalyst for (her) in order to do more for the team and put her in a stronger position as a leader. Emily is one of the best players in the world, and we’re lucky to have her.”
Csikos, after sitting out last season while training with the Canadian national team, had a total of 11 goals this past weekend. Csikos scored once against No. 15 Loyola Marymount and twice against Arizona State. She went on to score four goals against No. 9 Hawaii.
Csikos continued her hot streak with four goals in the 8-6 win against No. 7 San Diego State on Sunday.
The game began with the Aztecs winning the opening sprint, but they allowed Csikos to nab the first score of the game. San Diego State’s Claire McKinnon managed to tie the game as time expired in the first quarter.
The game continued goal for goal until Cal managed to regain and keep the lead late into the third quarter. The Bears had four different players score, including Csikos.
Freshman Pippa Saunders scored the last goal of the game with less than two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, helping the Bears climb to a two-goal lead.
With the victory, Cal was able to end on a high note as the Bears head back home to start conference play. The tournament served as a preview for the upcoming conference.
“We know we can compete at the highest level, and we know we can win, and I think that’s the most important thing,” Corso said.
Alicia Fong covers women’s water polo. Contact her at [email protected]