The clang of the metal chair against the hard concrete wall reverberated through Spieker Aquatic Complex on Saturday afternoon. Odysseas Masmanidis, enraged by his team’s 11-10 loss to Pacific, had put the full force of his body behind his throw, echoing his and his team’s frustration over their close defeat.
Going into Saturday’s match, the Bears (20-5, 6-2 MPSF) were tied for second in the NCAA rankings with the Tigers (21-3, 7-1). They started the game off slowly, going down by a quick three goals at the beginning of the first quarter. Five shots rang off the crossbar as Cal’s offense pushed to score, but the Bears found themselves continually unable to put the ball in the back of the net.
Cal’s defense similarly seemed out of sorts as Pacific’s Devon Thumwood and Krisztian Laczkovics contributed to the Tigers’ scoring by pushing the ball quickly into the middle and capitalizing on gaps.
The Bears saw a flurry of energy in the second and third quarters with goals from Luca Cupido, Masmanidis and Colin Mulcahy, granting the Bears a three-goal lead to put them up 8-5 going into the fourth. But Cal was unable to hold off Pacific, allowing Pacific to crawl back in the fourth.
“We had a couple of offensive opportunities early. We had a counterattack to go up by four and a couple other shots that easily could have given us some momentum early in the fourth and didn’t put them away,” said Cal head coach Kirk Everist.
The Tigers’ Alex Obert and Aleksandar Petrovic helped to push their team ahead with goals that came as time ran out. With 19 seconds left, the Bears found themselves behind by two goals, 11-9, and seemingly without hope of coming back. Cupido scored a goal with 17 seconds left, but it was too little too late for the Bears, and they eventually fell to the Tigers, 11-10.
“It came down to defense in the end and not executing on the defensive end,” Everist said. “I think we put ourselves in a bad situation.”
In their effort against the Tigers, the Bears were led by Cupido with four goals and Masmanidis with two, along with single goal efforts by Conor Neumann, Farrel South, Thomas Carroll and Mulcahy.
“We were pretty mad about how we ended that game. We have to learn from (Saturday) that we have to lock up our defense first and then work on our offense,” Cupido said. “If we want to get to the NCAA finals we have to think as a team, both on offense and defense.”
Less than 24 hours later, the Bears returned to their home pool with renewed energy. Their game against No. 9 Pepperdine came with considerably less pressure, which was clearly reflected in Cal’s game as they came out comfortably and asserted their dominance.
An explosion of offensive fire allowed the Bears to go up for a quick 7-1 lead at the end of the first quarter with goals from Mulcahy and Pedro Stellet. Similarly, the Bears’ defense appeared to be reinvigorated as they played tight coverage against the Waves.
The subsequent three quarters brought much of the same result as Cal’s goal streaks continued. In the second period, six different Bears put the ball in the back of the net to lead Cal to a 14-1 lead at halftime, which was extended to 21-2 by the end of the third and resulted in an astounding 26-3 win against Pepperdine.
“We still have some games left in our conference so we can still get a two or three seed going into the playoffs, which puts us in a good spot moving on,” Everist said.
Sophie Goethals covers men’s water polo. Contact her at [email protected]