Cal men’s water polo to host UCLA, Pacific

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Alexandre Bui/File

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The No. 2 Cal men’s water polo team (14-1) was unstoppable for its first 11 games, dominating many of its opponents without hesitation and giving its more highly ranked competitors some of the toughest fights they had seen yet. The Bears’ loss in their 12th game, however, broke their winning streak, ending the team’s chances of perpetuating its undefeated record. The squad responsible: No. 1 UCLA (20-0).

On Saturday afternoon, Cal will once again hosts the Bruins and look for victory, hoping to reciprocate the loss the endured in the Mountain Pacific Invitational earlier this year and dirty the other team’s unblemished record. Recent history suggests that this weekend’s competition may be an uphill battle for the Bears, given that UCLA beat them four times last season and in the teams’ first matchup this year.

UCLA’s supremacy extends beyond the current season — it is both the reigning NCAA and MPSF champion. Last year, the Bruins were undefeated as well, finishing the 2015 season with a 30-0 record. The team recently broke the previous NCAA record for consecutive wins of 52, reaching 53 in its most recent game against No. 7 UC Santa Barbara.

UCLA’s success is multifaceted, but a few players stand out. One such is senior attacker Patrick Fellner, an Orinda native who played on a local club team coached by Cal’s head coach Kirk Everist. Fellner is the Bruins’ leading scorer, with 27 goals.

Also contributing to UCLA’s continued success are junior attacker Max Irving (25 goals, 22 assists and 18 steals), senior attacker Ryder Roberts (24 goals, 20 assists and 29 steals) and senior attacker Joey Fuentes (21 goals, 29 assists and 14 steals). Junior utility Alex Roelse and junior center Matt Farmer both follow close behind with 20 goals apiece.  Collectively, the offense has scored 273 goals this season.

While the UCLA attack is as powerful as there is in the country, it avoids becoming one-dimensional because of the many high-volume goal scorers the team boasts. The many faces of the offense demonstrate the depth and well-roundedness of the program. This helps explain why they are so hard to beat – multiple players pose a credible threat to their opponents. Though the aggregated contribution of UCLA’s top five scorers is greater than that of Cal’s, the disparity is not especially worrying as the Bruins have played five more games this season than the Bears have, providing them with ample opportunity to boost their statistics.

Cal’s scoring is slightly more lopsided than the Bruins’. Sophomore attacker Johnny Hooper is significantly ahead of the rest of his teammates, with a total of 46 goals this season. The next highest scorers are freshman attacker Safak Simsek, with 18 goals, and redshirt freshman attacker Jordan Hoover with 16.

Junior attacker Luca Cupido, who played for Team U.S.A. in the Olympics earlier this year, has only 11 goals so far, although coach Everist expects Cupido’s contribution in increase in the coming weeks.

“Luca obviously had a break,” Everist said. “It’s going to be a process with him because he needed a break and he took it. We wanted him to do that.”

The Bears are coming off of a hiatus just over two weeks long and have not seen competitive play since the blowout in which they beat Long Beach State by a considerable margin of 17-7. UCLA is also coming off of a break, though it was much shorter than Cal’s was, lasting only nine days.

On Sunday, despite the outcome of the prior day’s match, the Bears must continue to bring their best when they play No. 4 Pacific in Stockton, California. Pacific has had a strong season, only losing twice to both UCLA and No. 3 USC. If Cal doesn’t beat Pacific, they will almost definitely witness a drop in their ranking.

Therefore, given what is at stake, the Bears need to come into this double-header weekend strong and play with the tenacity they did earlier this month against Long Beach. Saturday begins a three-week period of the regular season schedule that will likely be more difficult than any stretch of the season up to this point.

Sarah Goldzweig covers men’s water polo. Contact her at [email protected]