Johnny Hooper, in a rare lapse, lost the sprint at the beginning of the second quarter. After that, Hooper and the Cal men’s water polo team saw their dynamic start begin to dwindle as the Bruins fought back to beat them, 8-7, on Saturday.
Cal was off to an explosive start against UCLA as Connor Neumann found the back of the net within the first 30 seconds, and the Bears finished the first quarter with a 3-1 advantage. The Bears’ defense, having previously struggled with shutting down six-versus-five advantages, was able to continually thwart UCLA’s attempts with synchronous pressure-cover movement. Similarly, goalie Lazar Andric seemed to have a read on every shot taken by the Bruins, blocking five high-powered shots in the first quarter.
The tone of the game began to slowly change in the second quarter, as both teams scored two apiece, with Cal keeping a 5-3 lead at the end of the half. The Bears, who had been able to convert all of their six-versus-five offensive opportunities so far, began to have difficulty finishing as UCLA picked up its defensive pressure.
But the tides began to turn in the third quarter, when UCLA scored four goals to Cal’s two. The Bears’ offense slowed down as attempts to get the ball to center Odysseas Masmanidis were continually denied.
“I think both teams were playing pretty good defense and shutting the other team down,” said Cal head coach Kirk Everist. “It kind of became a defensive battle.”
The fourth quarter brought increased physicality and pressure from both teams, causing Cal to tally three exclusions, one of which allowed UCLA to score its winning goal. The final minutes proved to be well fought, as the Bears attempted to tie the game at eight apiece but saw few easy opportunities as the Bruins’ defense tightened and goalie Garrett Danner blocked five shot attempts.
Although the Bears came out guns blazing, they were unable to stave off a resilient, undefeated UCLA team that was clearly not ready to give up its throne without a fight.
“At this level, teams make runs,” Everist said. “UCLA’s not going away. Eventually, good teams are going to score on you, and you’ve got to be ready for that.”
Cal’s second game proved to end more favorably, as it defeated Long Beach State on Sunday in double overtime, 15-14. The Bears once again started the match off with a bang, scoring five goals in the first quarter, once again able to convert goals on exclusions.
Heading into their second battle of the weekend, Everist said, “Both teams had really tough, hard, long, emotional games the day before, and that’s a hard part about going back to back for any team.”
As the first half ended, Cal once again found itself leading its adversary, 7-5, but was unable to maintain its advantage in the third quarter, as the 49ers tied the game up at 8-all. The offenses traded goals in the final quarter, with both teams scoring four apiece to end regulation time in a 12-12 tie.
Overtime brought much of the same, as Hooper and Masmanidis scored goals to put the Bears ahead, 14-12 — but LBSU came back with two of its own, pushing the game to a second overtime. Finally, Masmanidis was able to convert on an early goal in the second overtime. The match saw a standout performance from freshman Hooper, who scored a season-high seven goals against the 49ers.
“There were some moments there in the first quarter where we could have scored a couple more goals and really put it down on them,” Everist said.
Sophie Goethals covers men’s water polo. Contact her at [email protected]