The No. 3 Cal men’s water polo team (4-0) faced a tough challenge this weekend at the Triton Invitational when it took on No. 5 University of the Pacific. The Bears needed two overtime periods to dispatch the Tigers, 13-11, but barely needed half of their other three games to defeat Cal Baptist, UCSB and UCSD — 26-8, 12-5 and 16-5, respectively.
The match against Pacific was a nail-biter from the start, a physically contested game with five lead changes, eight ties and 18 ejections — eight for Pacific and 10 for Cal. The Bears took an early 3-1 lead, but Pacific tied the score at six by halftime and then proceeded to take a 9-8 lead entering the fourth quarter.
Right when the Bears needed it most, Cal’s co-captains — seniors Thomas Agramonte and Colin Mulcahy — came through in the clutch with goals to put the Bears up by one. But with about two minutes left, the Bears’ defense couldn’t hold the Tigers back, and Pacific junior Ben Stevenson forced overtime with his hat-trick goal.
The first overtime was evenly fought, with no goals from either team. The second overtime, however, was largely dominated by the Bears, who immediately jumped out to a 12-11 lead behind junior defender Farrel South’s breakaway goal just 30 seconds into the three-minute period.
Cal blocked a shot by Pacific senior Krisztian Laczkovics, and Cal junior goalkeeper Lazar Andric made two key saves against redshirt junior Aleksandar Petrovic and redshirt senior Alex Obert to hold the Bears’ lead. Finally, Cal freshman attacker Johnny Hooper sealed the game with 1:09 remaining, netting his first collegiate goal for the Bears.
The excitement and the confidence boost from the double-overtime win likely spurred Cal on to easy wins in its remaining matches. The Bears’ second match Saturday was against Cal Baptist, which was all but over at the end of the first quarter of play, as Cal led, 9-0. Baptist put away its first goal with 7:16 in the second quarter, but it did nothing to stop the bleeding, as the Bears led 16-4 at halftime en route to a 26-8 win. Mulcahy led the team with six goals in the game, followed by freshman Odysseas Masmanidis with five. Hooper also added four goals of his own.
On Sunday, UCSB was slightly more difficult of an opponent for the Bears, holding Cal to a 2-1 lead in the first quarter. The team broke the game open in the second quarter, leading, 6-2, at halftime and finishing the game, 12-5.
Mulcahy again led the team, this time with a hat trick in the second quarter, and Hooper continued his impressive debut weekend with another three goals against the Gauchos.
The Bears’ last match of the weekend came against host UCSD, and the pattern of winning early continued. Cal held a 6-2 lead at the end of the first, behind three more goals from Mulcahy and a first-quarter brace from junior defender Thomas Carroll. The Bears finished off the Tritons, 16-5. Mulcahy finished the game with five goals and the weekend with 16, as he led the Bears to a 4-0 weekend.
Pacific was the Bears’ season opener, and a difficult one at that. The opener against the Tigers served as useful preparation for the difficult season ahead. It also allowed Cal head coach Kirk Everist to get a better understanding of what his freshmen could do in the pool against strong opponents.
Hooper ended the weekend with eight goals, including the crucial one in overtime against Pacific. Masmanidis finished with nine goals, including the five in Cal’s blowout of Baptist. For all the freshmen who traveled to San Diego this weekend, this weekend’s matches served as an awakening into the world of college water polo — a promising one, too.
Vikram Muller covers men’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].