No. 4 Cal women’s water polo freshman steps up against CSU Bakersfield

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Aditi Raghunath/File

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In a game where the No. 4 Cal women’s water polo team was missing two of its three Olympians in Roser Tarrago and Anna Illes, freshman Emma Wright stepped up and stole the spotlight. Wright scored seven goals in a dominating 16-5 victory over No. 24 CSU Bakersfield (2-5). In the process, she tied the record for the second most goals scored in a game in Cal history.

Cal (9-1) stormed out of the gate and took a 4-1 lead after the first period, which included goals on the first three attempts by Wright, and never looked back. The Bears scored at least three goals in each quarter of play en route to their first MPSF victory, despite missing Tarrago due to injury and Illes to the bench.

The two teams played a physical game that featured 24 ejections. Cal took full advantage of the power plays that followed each 20-second ejection, and it scored on four of its first six tries while going six-on-five. Two Roadrunners, Ashley Paz and Ana Ruiz, fouled out along with Cal’s Kindred Paul.

While the match against CSU Bakersfield was Wright’s first conference game, she and the team were unfazed by the added pressure.

“Conference games are very important,” Wright said. “But in general, we understand that we just want to play our game. I went into the game and tried to do the best I could. I try to do that every game, and it just worked out for me this time.”

Originally signed in 2014, Wright deferred her enrollment to Cal to train with the Canadian National Team. She began the season with 15 goals in nine games and finished Saturday’s match with about half that total. Wright’s record-tying performance earned her the MPSF Newcomer of the Week award. Despite coming off of a great individual showing, she was quick to point out her teammate’s strong play.

“I definitely think that our goalie, Maddie Tagg, had a very active role (in the victory),” Wright said. “At some points in the game, we were struggling a bit, but she was able to make some important stops that we needed to change the momentum.”

Madison Tagg recorded eight saves and, more impressively, deflected two penalty shots. On defense, the Bears forced 16 turnovers while only conceding five, doing so even without the defensive presence of Illes. Offensively, sophomore Rachael Lewin contributed three goals, and senior Stephanie Mutafyan put away two more. Once again, the Bears had a well-balanced offensive attack with seven different players scoring at least once. Overall, Cal played well on both sides of the ball and came away with a convincing victory.

The Roadrunners’ attack was led by Nicola Barrett’s two goals. Goalie Courtney Wahlstrom made nine of her 11 saves in the first half, and the Bears’ advantage was only up 7-3 when she was playing. She would run out of steam in the second half, however, and open the floodgates to the impressive Cal victory.

CSU Bakersfield continues to struggle against ranked opponents. The loss to Cal brings its record against Top-25 foes to 1-4, with the sole win being a 7-5 victory over No. 22 California Baptist.

After this dominating win, Cal will put its MPSF schedule on hold. Next Saturday, the team will return to the Legends Aquatic Center to host Stanford, Santa Clara and the New York Athletic Club in the California Speedo Cup II.

Leo Liu covers women’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].