Behind seven goals from freshman Emma Wright, the No. 4 Cal women’s water polo team (9-1) opened conference play last week with a convincing 16-5 road victory over No. 24 CSU Bakersfield (2-5). This Saturday, the Bears return home to host No. 1 Stanford, Santa Clara and the New York Athletic Club in the California Speedo Cup II.
This Speedo Cup, however, is not a traditional tournament. There will be no winner, and not all teams will play each other. Both Cal and Stanford are slated for exhibition matches against New York and will play regular-season games against Santa Clara. The conference rivals, however, will not face off, and neither will Santa Clara and the NYAC.
Having two games in a day on a quick turnaround can be a challenge, but head coach Coralie Simmons believes it will serve as a good learning experience for the team.
“This is an opportunity to get two solid games in one day,” Simmons said. “In tournament play, we have to combine two games in one day to get into a final match. It is always nice to have the chance to prepare for that. I’m looking forward to seeing how much we’ve improved from last week to this week.”
Cal will face a strong NYAC team in the first half of the doubleheader. Dating back to the early 1900s, the New York Athletic Club has produced quality water polo players and has taken home numerous national championships. In addition, there have been more Olympians and national team players from this private program than from any other team in the United States. The NYAC sent an astonishing eight women to Rio de Janeiro in the 2016 Olympics alone.
“Matching up against New York, we’ll be tested in terms of experience and playing solid defense as a team,” Simmons said. “There will be a lot of run-and-gun and a lot of one-on-one action against them. I look forward to seeing how we’ll respond to that style of play versus a team attack.”
Later that day, the Bears return to the water to play Santa Clara (3-6). The Broncos are led by sophomore Hannah Buck (1.3 goals per game), who made the GCC All-Freshman Team last season, and goalie Francesca Puccinelli (8.8 blocks per game), who earned the GCC Player of the Week award last week.
Santa Clara started the season strong by going 3-1, but has since faltered and lost five games in a row. Having to face the top-ranked Stanford and No. 4 Cal in the Speedo Cup, it will face an uphill climb trying to return to its winning ways.
Stanford (7-0) has been out of action since it handed Cal its sole loss of the season Feb. 5. Despite not playing for the past two weeks, the Cardinal have remained on top of the polls. This Saturday, they will square off against the NYAC and Santa Clara, and they will not play the Bears again until April 2.
Cal will not see MPSF action again until March 18 at UCLA. For now, the team will use the California Speedo Cup II to tune up for the lengthy grind of the season.
Leo Liu covers women’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].