For the second time in the past two weeks, the No. 2 Cal men’s water polo team has sent No. 7 UCSB back to Isla Vista with its tails between its legs. The Bears were also successful in defeating unranked San Jose State.
“I thought we got a little sloppy (Saturday) afternoon in the second half for sure. We had a good first half — solid and consistent,” said Cal head coach Kirk Everist. “We lost focus and got a little sloppy fourth quarter. Today we started off with a mixed lineup with some of our first line guys and couple of subs that I thought did a good job taking control of the game. It was nice getting a lot of players in early and getting them minutes.”
As expected, Saturday’s match versus the Gauchos wasn’t a complete blowout. Cal ended up defeating UCSB, 13-9, led by sophomore Odysseas Masmanidis, who had three goals. The Bears kicked it off with a penalty shot by sophomore Johnny Hooper and another goal by Masmanidis and were followed by goals from five other Cal players. At the half, the Bears had a clear lead, 9-2, but let it go a little bit in the second, allowing the Gauchos a small ray of hope.
By the end of the third quarter, UCSB had cut Cal’s lead down to 12-7, as both teams struggled to play well. Four Cal players — Hooper and juniors Pedro Stellet, Connor Reid and Conor Neumann — scored twice, in addition to junior Nic Carniglia and senior Thomas Carroll who both contributed one goal. Senior goalkeeper Lazar Andric continued his stellar final season, saving 18 shots.
“Lazar played really well,” Everist said. “Overall team defense in the first half was excellent. … They didn’t really have many good looks on the cage. Pedro had a good game and had good energy. The first half was a pretty good team effort, and if we keep playing like that, we’re a tough team to beat.”
The Bears also crushed the Spartans, 16-9, on Sunday afternoon. Even though San Jose State was able to get on the scoreboard first, Cal was ahead 11-5 by the half, led by Hooper who had three goals. Because of the lack of competition between the two teams, this match allowed a wide range of players who don’t typically get much playing time to have a chance in the water. Freshman Mikey Williams led the Bears with four goals. And other players such as redshirt freshman Chase Hamming, junior JD Ratchford and redshirt freshman Jack Pickard got opportunities to play, and each scored in the second half.
“I thought we got some really good minutes from guys,” Everist said. “Today we really tried to start a couple of them from the beginning. … It’s good to put pressure on younger players and give them responsibility to get a lead and maintain a lead. It forces them to come in focused and play hard from the get-go.”
It seems that as long as Cal is not playing a top-five team, it is almost guaranteed to win. Besides the Bears’ USC and UCLA matches, no other team seems to pose as a challenge. This weekend, Andric didn’t even start in goal against San Jose State, which says a lot about the Bears’ confidence against these teams.
“We are still moving forward, but we are in a good spot,” Everist said. “We have to keep winning games. We have a stretch of not having games for while. Here, we have one game on Thursday, which is one game in (the next) three weeks essentially. It is going to be a hard three weeks from a training standpoint. We need to maintain fitness and maintain an edge from a playing standpoint. We’ll be scrimmaging ourselves for the two and a half weeks as far as games go. We just need to keep working hard to keep getting better over this next phase.”
Taylor Choe covers men’s water polo. Contact her at [email protected]