Two weeks ago, the Cal women’s water polo team took down then-No. 1 Stanford, beating its rival for the second consecutive time in two seasons, after previously losing 41 consecutive matches to the Cardinal in a time frame of 15 years. The No. 3 Bears — two spots higher after the win against Stanford — will try to ride the emotional high of defeating their bitter rivals as they make a quick stop at the Davis Shootout this weekend. Cal is set to match up against No. 12 Pacific on Saturday morning and Brown in the afternoon.
The Bears have had a week off from competition, and head coach Richard Corso feels that it has certainly benefitted the team.
“The training has been real positive,” Corso said. “Very difficult but very positive. The biggest thing is confidence. Confidence is way up. Some of that is learned confidence — it’s not false confidence, it’s learned — and the other big thing is that once in a while I see a little bit of arrogance out there, and that’s good. It’s not only good, it’s important, it’s critical.”
After a lone hard-fought 10-9 loss earlier in the season to then-No. 7 Hawaii, the Bears have turned their play around and emerged as a premier defensive team, second in the MPSF with 4.92 goals allowed per game, just behind No. 1 USC’s 4.17. It appears as if Corso’s philosophy of approaching every game with the approach of a championship game is paying off so far, but that level of effort maintained throughout a season could backfire.
Sometimes teams ease into their schedules, experimenting with different offensive plays and defensive sets through tournaments before conference play begins, but the Bears have put in maximum effort from day one. This weekend’s Davis Shootout will show Corso if his players can maintain the high intensity, as the Bears are scheduled to play two matches in one day with only three hours in between, a shorter time span than the Stanford Invitational.
“We’re going to have to play hard, play two matches with a shorter amount of rest on Saturday,” Corso said. “Every game is a gold medal match — that’s the way we take it — we can’t overlook any player or any team. That’s what we learned (against Hawaii).”
The Bears open play at 11 a.m. against Pacific, a familiar foe — the Bears have already won twice against the Tigers this season, 12-8 and 19-8 — and the eight goals allowed in each of those games was the second most for the Bears all season. The Tigers are led offensively by freshman attacker Viktoria Szmodics, who has 24 goals on the season — two of which came against the Bears in the 19-8 loss — and by sophomore attacker Rachel Krieger with 17 assists.
In the first meeting, Cal senior driver Pippa Saunders torched the Tigers for four of Cal’s 12 goals, and three additional players each scored two for the Bears. In the second matchup, 10 Bears scored, including hat-tricks for sophomore Carla Carrega and junior Stephanie Mutafyan. Cal will certainly expect to exploit the Pacific defense again this weekend.
At 3 p.m. the Bears of California meet another group of Bears from Brown. Brown enters the weekend at 1-6, having hosted the Bruno Classic last weekend, where they finished 1-4, with all four losses coming against ranked opponents. Notably, one of those losses was 17-10 to then-No. 4 Hawaii, two weeks after the Rainbow Wahine beat Cal. Although Brown has had a tough schedule to open the season and its record doesn’t show significant strength, it was able to put 10 in the net against Hawaii, compared to Cal only scoring nine.
As long as Cal continues its defensive dominance, however, it should be able to leave UC Davis with two more wins on its record.
Vikram Muller covers women’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].