Although they’d prefer not to, the Bears experienced a little deja vu this weekend.
On Saturday, the No. 4 Cal women’s water polo team came into No. 1 USC’s home pool with hopes of avoiding a similar outcome from the team’s 12-7 loss in the UC Irvine Invitational on Feb. 23. But at the conclusion of Saturday’s match, the Bears dejectedly climbed out of the pool and glanced up toward the scoreboard of Uytengsu Aquatics Center. Once again, Cal fell 12-7.
Forced to play without the services of leading scorer freshman Dora Antal and junior Tiera Schroeder for the second week in a row, in addition to sophomore Pippa Saunders, a young roster deprived of key contributors could not overcome USC (15-0, 3-0 MPSF). But, Cal (15-4, 1-1) did not allow Saturday’s failures to leak to future discouragement. Fueled by a first-half shutout over No. 9 Loyola Marymount University, the Bears stomped over the Lions, 9-5, and hopped on the plane back home on a high note; the loss against the Trojans, however, was a huge missed opportunity.
Because Cal is currently sitting at No. 4 in the country, a loss against the best team in the nation will likely have little, if any, effect on the Bears when it comes to the team’s national position. Still, a win for Cal on Saturday could have massively stirred up the brackets. Unfortunately for the Bears, the Trojans were not going to let that happen.
Although the final score indicates that Cal was once again dominated by USC, Saturday’s match was not played in the same circumstances as February’s. In February, the Trojans caught the Bears off guard right from the opening sprint and forced a plethora of turnovers to score goals.
This time, Cal played short-handed. Antal, who currently has 52 goals in the season, could not get in the water. Having to place her on the shelf for the past two weeks due to an injured left arm, the Bears have not seen Antal increase her scoring total since the UC Irvine Invitational.
To make matters worse for the Bears, the injury list did not stop with Antal. Schroeder and Saunders, responsible for a combined 18 goals this season, could do nothing but watch and cheer from the sidelines as the Trojans took advantage of a team that did not have full access to all of its weapons.
As disappointing as Saturday’s loss might have been, it was essential that Cal handle Loyola Marymount.
But this weekend would yield zero surprises. Loyola Marymount was immediately startled, and the offense was close to nonexistent. The Cal defense, led by Madeline Trabucco’s six saves, was like a brick wall. The Lions could not get anything going, scoring just one goal at the end of three quarters. With a 6-1 deficit heading into the closing frame, there was very little Loyola Marymount could do.
Cal would certainly have liked to leave Los Angeles with a 2-0 record for the weekend, but 1-1 isn’t going to drastically harm the team. If the Bears intend to end the season in May standing in the middle of the podium, they are most likely going to have to come face to face with the Trojans again. Come that time, Cal cannot afford another 12-7 finish.
Richard Lee covers women’s water polo. Contact him at Contact him at [email protected].