The 49ers had just played what was arguably their best defensive possession of the game, forcing the Bears into a poor outside shot and preventing the ball from getting inside for the entirety of the 35-second shot clock. The ball fell to Long Beach State’s goalie, but Cal junior driver Stephanie Mutafyan expertly read a questionable short outlet pass and stole the ball back for the Bears. Sophomore defender Kindred Paul quickly turned around to receive a perfectly placed pass from Mutafyan, four meters from the cage. Paul slotted home her second goal of the game against a helpless goalie, giving Cal a 7-3 lead midway through the third quarter.
This somewhat lucky play for the Bears perfectly summed up the game against No. 21 Long Beach State, in which nearly everything went right for Cal. Aside from a close first quarter, the Bears dominated the 49ers Sunday in an 11-5 victory at Spieker Aquatics Complex.
Cal’s matchup Friday, however, was not as easy for the Bears ─ tied for No. 8 ─ who came up against No. 2 UCLA. Although the Bears’ defense did a stellar job, holding UCLA to its lowest output of the season, it was the Bruins’ defense that played slightly better, sliding past Cal, 4-3.
Despite the loss, Cal head coach Richard Corso was rather content with the outcome, considering the margin of defeat and the quality and composure his team displayed. The Bears went 1-for-9 on 6-on-5 opportunities offensively but held the Bruins to 2-for-6, a relatively successful mark, but not good enough.
“I thought their defense was good, but it was one goal better than ours. We played a hell of a defensive game, too. We only gave up four goals,” Corso said. “The biggest thing that I have for the girls is just relaxing when they have the ball, staying confident, keep attacking, put the ball away.”
Cal opened the game by converting its only powerplay opportunity to take a one goal lead after the first quarter. The Bears then conceded a 6-on-5 opportunity to UCLA midway through the second, which allowed the Bruins to tie the game back up. From then on, Cal seemed somewhat trigger-happy, taking numerous shots with more than five seconds left on the shot clock.
“I think our clock management was good. Maybe we didn’t get it in the right hand, but overall I thought our clock management was good. Our timing against their press was a little bit off, but we drew exclusions,” Corso insisted.
To open the second half, both teams shifted into a half-tank press, but, ironically, both offenses were frequently able to break the press and combined for five goals in the third quarter. The Bruins had one goal at center ─ which proved to be the difference ─ but aside from that, both defenses stepped up and were only beaten by outside shots.
Sunday’s game began similarly for the Bears ─ tightly contested. Two times, the 49ers took a one-goal lead, but both times, the Bears responded to send the game into the second quarter tied at two apiece. Long Beach, however, could not maintain its intensity. Sophomore driver Carla Carrega scored two of her four goals in the second to help Cal take a 5-2 lead into halftime and gain control of the game with its high press defense.
“We were trying to press the first three minutes of the game, but we came out a little bit slow. We started a tad slower than we would have liked to, but once we got into it, I thought that by the middle of the second we had all eight cylinders firing,” Corso said.
After halftime, the Bears never looked back, expanding their lead to five midway through the third quarter ─ led by Carrega, Paul and junior Emily Loughlin, who scored two goals of her own ─ and providing freshmen an opportunity to play valuable minutes in the fourth.
Vikram Muller covers women’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].