Public versus private. North versus South. No. 2 versus No. 3. Bear versus Trojan.
What a rivalry.
On Saturday, the Cal men’s water polo team (15-2) will travel to Downtown Los Angeles in hopes of defeating USC (16-1) for the second time this season.
“I think it’ll go down to the wire and be a typical Cal – SC battle,” said Cal head coach Kirk Everist. “I know they’ll be prepared and I know we will too. We’re going to have to be disciplined and we’re going to have to execute on our 6 on 5, 5 on 6 to be successful against them. They have a lot of talented players so we’re going to have to play the kind of team defense that we did last time, that at least made their opportunities hard.”
The Bears won the last matchup between the two, edging out the Trojans, 10-8, for a much deserved home win. Since then, Cal’s only two losses have been to No. 1 UCLA (21-0), who USC has yet to play. Last Saturday, the Bears were barely beaten by the Bruins, 6-7, but came out ready to play the next day, defeating No. 4 Pacific, 14-10.
The Trojans’ schedule so far has not been as tough as the Bears’, having only one game last weekend versus No. 6 Long Beach State, who they defeated 13-8. USC’s match versus Claremont-Mudd-Scripps was an easy win and a good boost of confidence, which the Trojans will need before facing Cal.
The two teams have a strong tradition of battling back and forth as two of the best water polo programs in the NCAA. On the Trojan side are two Team U.S.A. Olympians — junior McQuin Baron and freshman Thomas Dunstan. Aside from them, other USC players to look out for are brothers Blake and Lachlan Edwards, who lead the Trojans with 34 and 27 goals, respectively. Returning senior and 2016 All-American Nick Bell brings much experience to the pool and is also a vital piece to USC’s success.
“There are some tendencies that USC has,” Everist said. “They’re very organized, especially when they have a set play opportunity after a goal — new shot clock, sprints. So you have to be ready for their movement. (It’s) an active team, so we just need to be ready for that piece of it. But a lot of it is ourselves. We really feel like if we play our style of defense and we’re able to dictate how we want to play that — if we’re patient but aggressive on offense then we’ll be successful as a team.”
The Bears are not looking too shabby themselves. Sophomore Johnny Hooper leads both the Bears and the entire MPSF in scoring with 50 goals for the season. Junior and 2016 Olympian Luca Cupido is starting to look more and more like the Luca of old, as Cal’s match versus UCLA showed glimpses of his dominance. And it’s difficult to forget senior goalkeeper Lazar Andric, whose half-pool shot to end the previous Bear-Trojan matchup was the perfect cherry on top of the sundae of an intensity-ridden battle.
It’s clear that Cal has the depth and talent to take down USC, and what could be better for the Bears than proving to the Trojans that they don’t always get everything they want?
Taylor Choe covers men’s water polo. Contact her at [email protected]