Win after win after win after win. That’s what it looked like to anyone who kept up with the No. 3 Cal men’s water polo team this weekend in New Jersey for the Princeton Invitational.
The Bears started off the tournament Friday with an early morning exhibition match against No. 1 UCLA. Even with both teams missing some players, the scrimmage was a good way to start the weekend. Cal junior Luca Cupido, who stayed home in order to rest after competing in the Olympics, was among those who did not compete this weekend. But even without the Bears’ star player, they still managed to perform exceedingly well, which is promising for a strong rest of the season.
“Overall it was a good weekend,” said Cal head coach Kirk Everist. “It was good getting a lot of guys playing time, getting used to what we want to accomplish offensively and defensively. As the weekend went on, the defense was pretty solid. We came together defensively which is an important part of establishing a presence on the defensive end.”
Even with home pool advantage, No. 11 Princeton was no competition for Cal, as the Bears crushed the Tigers, 18-8. Cal was up 9-3 by halftime, giving Princeton little hope for a comeback. Two of the Bears’ freshmen, Safak Simsek and Mikey Williams, took advantage of the playing time they received, scoring a goal apiece for the Bears. Redshirt freshman Nick Bisconti was also able to capitalize on his time in the pool, contributing a goal. Another freshman who stood out was goalkeeper Bernardo Carelli who entered the game in the second half to take over for senior Lazar Andric and made three saves in his first game.
The dominance didn’t stop there for Cal as it trampled George Washington 15-4 later in the day. The Bears had a 3-0 lead at the quarter and were up 7-1 by the half, never allowing the Colonials opportunities to catch up. Redshirt freshman Jordan Hoover scored his first collegiate goal, ending the second half with two and the game with three. Sophomore standout Johnny Hooper also finished the game with three. The backup goalkeeper spot seems to be in contention, as junior Kevin Le Vine started this game, recording eight saves before he was subbed out for Carelli, who made seven saves.
On Saturday, Cal had its most commanding game of the tournament, defeating No. 20 St. Francis, 17-0. After only eight minutes of playing time, the Bears had already scored five goals, and at the half Cal was up 10-0. Returners contributed to the early lead as Hooper and junior Nic Carniglia each scored a goal in the first quarter. Veteran goalie Andric played all but three minutes of the game, ending with ten saves. Cal’s defense was superb, having nine steals of which redshirt sophomore Matt Sherburne contributed three, while sophomore Timothy Simenc blocked two shots. Unsurprisingly, Hooper led the Bears’ offensive charge along with Hoover, both coming away with three goals.
“Everyone played fairly well and got some good minutes,” Everist said. “Lazar’s game with the shutout is a great accomplishment and doesn’t happen very often. It was good to get the freshmen playing in real games. This tournament was a good chance to help implement some of the younger players into the team.”
Sunday’s game was just the cherry on top of the sundae for Cal this weekend. The Bears defeated No. 16 Johns Hopkins, 16-2, to cap off the tournament. Hooper, once again never short of scoring, contributed four goals, cutting through the Blue Jays’ defense. The young Hoover followed scoring three goals of his own, while other newcomer Carnelli started for the first time, making nine saves in goal for Cal.
It is clear that the Bears have an incredibly talented freshman class that will only add to its strong and experienced lineup.
“We have a pretty deep team, both offensively and defensively,” Everist said. “We have a lot of interchangeable parts that were able to go six for six and not lose much. We’ve come away knowing we have a deep team and we’ll be able to last the whole year. To grind, it requires depth and I think we have that on the offensive and defensive end.”
Taylor Choe covers men’s water polo. Contact her at [email protected].