When 11 of the top 20 water polo teams in the 2015 Collegiate Water Polo Association Poll play at the same tournament, the matches are bound to be filled with excitement.
The Cal men’s water polo team will be traveling to New Jersey this weekend to take part in the 2016 Princeton Invitational. The tournament spans from Sept. 8 to 11, as the Bears will face a group of impressive opponents.
The Bears begin play Sept. 9 as they start off the day with an exhibition game versus defending champions UCLA. This will be a test for Cal facing off against the NCAA champions and can give them confidence early on in the season if they are victorious. Last season, the Bruins won all four of their matchups against Cal, with the last one being at the MPSF Championship, where the Bears were barely edged out, 11-12. Cal is also scheduled to play No. 11 Princeton and unranked George Washington University on Friday. These teams are somewhat unfamiliar for the Bears, who did not face either in the 2015 season.
On Saturday, Cal will be playing against St. Francis. The Terriers have already played their first tournament of the season, coming out with losses against No. 4 Pacific, No. 16 Bucknell and No. 13 UC Davis. St. Francis was not part of Cal’s schedule last season, but the team should be able to win this match without much trouble.
Sunday consists of a game against Johns Hopkins, another team that Cal did not play against last season. The Blue Jays have had a weak start to the season, losing their first four matches against No. 14 Harvard, No. 4 Pacific, No. 13 Brown and unranked MIT. Johns Hopkins has a difficult schedule in this tournament, as it will be coming off matches versus UCLA and UCSD the day before. Cal should try to take advantage of that fact, because although there is a marginal difference in their rankings, Johns Hopkins is still a highly respectable team that may just be going through a slump at the moment.
This is an important tournament for the Bears, not only because they will be facing many of the top-ranked teams but also because it is the first of their season, setting a precedent for the rest of the year. There are seven incoming freshmen and eight redshirt freshmen who will be fighting for playing time on the Bears’ already talented roster.
Returning juniors Luca Cupido and Nic Carniglia will be able to show off what they’ve gained from training with the U.S. National Team. Cupido is the only Bear on the current team to have participated in the 2016 Rio games and will indeed bring valuable experience that he can pass down to the rest of the team.
Another key player to look out for in the upcoming season is sophomore Johnny Hooper, who led Cal in scoring as a freshman in 2015. He won the MPSF Newcomer of the Year award, following in Cupido’s footsteps.
Taylor Choe covers men’s water polo. Contact her at [email protected].