There is a last time for everything, and for the seniors on the No. 3 Cal men’s water polo team, this Saturday’s Big Splash against Stanford could possibly be their last game at Spieker Aquatics Complex and one of their last as a Bear. Cal will be honoring four seniors who have served as leaders in their last season.
“I’m a little bit sad, thinking in advance, I won’t be able to compete in collegiate water polo anymore, but I’m excited for what’s to come,” said senior Lazar Andric. “Four more weeks of really intense games, intense practices and good competition.”
This Saturday, the Bears will be taking on No. 6 Stanford in Berkeley. With home-pool advantage and wins over No. 2 USC, No. 4 UCSB and No. 5 Pacific behind them, the Bears (17-3) should be confident but careful not to underestimate the Cardinal (12-5).
Last weekend, Stanford barely lost to No. 5 Pacific, 11-10, in Stanford. The weekend before, the Cardinal also had a close match against No. 1 UCLA, losing 7-6, proving that they can still compete with the best.
Stanford’s scoring is headed by sophomore Blake Parrish, who scored four goals in the game versus Pacific. Parrish has 40 goals and is followed by redshirt sophomore Mitchell Mendoza and junior Cody Smith who both have 29 goals. Smith also contributed two goals in last weekend’s matchup.
“We really need to be aware of where they are at all times and try to just slow them down a little bit,” said Cal head coach Kirk Everist. “They’re good players and they’re going to get opportunities to score. We just need to limit their opportunities and make them work for them.”
Cal won the last face-off between the two, but Stanford has won two out of the past three matchups. Despite having gone back and forth in the past, the Bears are looking significantly stronger than the Cardinal this season, especially as junior Luca Cupido is regaining his form, right in time for the postseason. Cupido was awarded MPSF Player of the Week after scoring six goals in two games over the weekend.
In addition to having a 2016 Olympian on its roster, Cal has sophomore Johnny Hooper, who leads the team and the MPSF in scoring with 55 goals. Sophomore Odysseas Masmanidis and freshman Safak Simsek both also appear on the MPSF scoring rankings, at 10th and 15th in goals per match, respectively. Defensively, Andric leads the conference in number of saves per game with 11.5. In Cal’s game versus Pepperdine last weekend, Andric was stellar, recording 18 saves.
“As a team, we’re concentrating on slowing down and not rushing when we’re under pressure or we’re down in the game,” Andric said. “We’re trying to get to play our real game, with a good offense and good defense with the entire team. Individually, I am concentrating on just following the ball and doing my job, trying to do even more when I can than I’m required to.”
This game will be the first meeting between the two this season, and fans should be prepared for exciting water polo fueled by a historic rivalry and assuredensured that both teams plan on ending the season with a Splash.
Taylor Choe covers men’s water polo. Contact her at [email protected]