The rivalry between Cal and USC is nothing new. So the No. 3 Trojans should’ve been prepared for the Cal men’s water polo team to dethrone them as the No. 2 ranked team. And with an 11-1 record and its only loss coming from the No.1 ranked team, the Bears should be feeling incredibly confident about this weekend’s matches versus No. 7 UCSB and unranked San Jose State.
“Santa Barbara is always the team that never stops playing,” said junior Luca Cupido. “Even if they’re down by two or three goals they’re always going to keep competing so we always have to be aware of that — train our minds to be always on the grind and keep going even if we’re up by five. Championship mindset. Keep fighting and keep swimming up and down the pool no matter what the score is.”
Cal played the Gauchos (7-3) last weekend in the Mountain Pacific Invitational, handily defeating them, 15-8. This Saturday, the Bears will once again be at home and is expected to come out on top again. UCSB went 2-2 in last week’s tournament, struggling against Cal and No. 6 Long Beach State but defeating No. 9 Pepperdine and No. 14 Princeton. UCSB senior Reed Cotterill lead the team in goals in the Mountain Pacific Invitational, with nine, and also received a nomination for the the Golden Coast Conference Player of the Week. Offensively, if there is anyone that the Bears should look out for, it’s Cotterill.
“They have some really good talent and so we have to kind of manage that and force the shots from the people that we want,” said Cal head coach Kirk Everist. “They definitely have a couple of key players they focus on. If you look at their stats, a lot of their shots come from a couple three players. So you either have to force those guys to shoot a lot from places that we’re comfortable with them shooting, or not let them. Make somebody else beat us.”
On Sunday, Cal will face the Spartans (2-8) who have not had an ideal start to their season. San Jose State’s only wins has been against No. 20 Santa Clara and No. 16 Cal Baptist. The Spartans have yet to face the Bears, which could turn ugly very quickly. The previous season was the last time the two teams faced one another, with Cal winning all three matchups. Unfortunately for Cal Baptist, it seems that even if the Bears don’t play their starters, the Spartans would still get pummeled.
Although Cal may have not achieved the outcome that it had hoped for against UCLA, many players stood out as ones who are going to be vital come the postseason. Similar to last year, sophomore Johnny Hooper is once again defying genetics as his small size seems to have no effect on his play. He leads the MPSF in goals this season with 37 — 12 of which came last weekend. Because of his performances over the past couple of weeks, Hooper was named Muscle Milk Student-Athlete of the Week for the second time this season. His classmate, Odysseas Masmanidis made his season debut at last weekend’s invitational, scoring eight goals.
The two star sophomores, in addition to Cupido and other team veterans, should give Cal a very real chance at getting that championship ring this year.
“I think we need to know that we’ve made a step and we’re only going to get better, but so are they (UCLA), and we have to keep our momentum going forward and stay hungry and keep improving,” Everist said. “We have a chance this weekend to get better against a very good opponent, somebody that if we don’t play well, can challenge us and beat us. And it’s another opportunity to get a little bit better and move on throughout the season.”
Taylor Choe covers men’s water polo. Contact her at [email protected]