Oftentimes in sports, coaches are faced with the difficult decision of having to change their game plan and the more difficult decision of having to decide when their original plan is not working out well enough. Cal men’s water polo coach Kirk Everist, however, was not only faced with these two decisions this past weekend at UC Davis but also had the unusual dilemma of making these decisions while seeing his team in the lead.
While Cal (5-0) never relinquished its 5-2 halftime lead against the Aggies (3-3), it did significantly improve its play in the second half, rattling off 11 goals en route to a 16-7 win.
The Bears entered the matchup having blown out three of four opponents the previous weekend at the Triton Invitational. With Cal scoring four goals in the first quarter and conceding zero, it looked like the trend would continue. But the Aggies would not relent so easily, and after a period of offensive mediocrity from the Bears, Davis came back to within a three-goal halftime deficit.
“We had a number of offensive fouls in the first quarter and a half, especially at 2 meters,” Everist said. “It disrupted our rhythm. If you get an offensive foul 15 seconds into the offense, you don’t even get a shot, and I thought there were probably five or six possessions in the first half — which is almost half of your offensive opportunities — where we didn’t even get a shot off.”
Everist thought that halftime would allow his team to bounce back and develop a rhythm offensively, but instead, the Aggies cut the lead to 6-4, and Everist decided to change his approach. The Bears shifted to a strategy of quick stints with a larger rotation to add some variety to their play and take control of the game in the third quarter.
“We started trying to get a lot of energy out of a lot of people,” Everist said. He also pointed out energetic play by senior Colin Mulcahy and freshman Johnny Hooper as sparks that ignited the Bears in the third quarter.
Shorter rotations and renewed energy facilitated better ball movement from the Bears and allowed them to get a few goals from 2 meters. This, in turn, allowed them to slow the game down and set up their offense better. The Aggies looked stretched out after the Bears put away three goals to end the third quarter, and Cal capitalized in the fourth to expand the run to five straight goals and a 12-5 lead.
Freshman utility player Odysseas Masmanidis was responsible for two goals during the run, making up for many early offensive fouls that had contributed to the Bears’ stagnant play. Masmanidis finished with a game-high five goals.
“Sometimes it’s the way the game is being officiated and just how they’re calling things and what you can get away with and what you can’t,” Everist said. “(Masmanidis) has a unique style, and today he had to adjust a little bit to how he had to play the position.”
The game was blown open by the fourth quarter, and Cal thwarted any last comeback effort by the Aggies, scoring four more goals to end the game.
Vikram Muller covers men’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].