While the No. 5 Cal women’s water polo team held a excellent 13-6 record heading into this weekend’s matchup, the game against No. 16 San Jose State was a must-win for the Bears. Cal had lost three games in a row — all to conference opponents — and it was falling farther behind in the MPSF standings by the week.
Cal had already beaten SJSU three times this season, and in the teams’ fourth meeting, the Bears once again came out victorious, this time by a score of 12-6. This win comes at a particularly important time, as it gives Cal a confidence boost heading into its regular season finale next Saturday against undefeated No. 1 USC.
The Bears have had to face off against quality goalies in recent games, and their offense has been dormant of late. This weekend, however, Cal exploited the holes in the Spartans’ defense en route to scoring 12 goals, exactly how many the team had scored in its previous three games combined.
“Our high-scoring total against San Jose State really was just an effort of the team playing together and good communication,” said Cal sophomore Rachael Lewin. “It mostly comes down to the fact that we were playing as a team and the previous week of practice.”
Redshirt junior Anna Illes and senior Stephanie Mutafyan recorded hat tricks and led the charge for the Bears. In addition, Lewin, freshman Emma Wright and redshirt junior Dora Antal each contributed a pair of scores as the Cal offense fired on all cylinders.
Junior Mckenna Yates opened the scoring for the Spartans with a goal midway through the first. The 1-0 advantage was SJSU’s only lead of the game, and it was quickly relinquished, as Lewin scored the equalizer less than 30 seconds later on a 6-on-5 opportunity.
The Bears tacked on an additional 4 goals to take a 5-1 lead with 4:49 remaining in the second quarter, but before Cal could blow the game wide open, the Spartans put up 3 quick goals and sent the game into intermission with Cal’s lead down to 1.
Once the second half began, however, the Bears got right back to work in distancing themselves from SJSU. Cal scored 3 unanswered goals before the Spartans’ sophomore Michelle Taikeff netted her second score of the game to make it 8-5. The Bears finally pulled away completely in the fourth quarter, when they outscored SJSU 4 to 1 to give the final score of 12-6.
For the Spartans, this was their fourth loss in the past six games, and they dropped to 0-3 in MPSF matches. While redshirt junior goalie Katelynn Thompson finished the game with 10 saves, the team could not muster enough offense to challenge Cal. Taikeff led the scoring with 2 goals, while four other players added 1 each for SJSU.
The Bears needed to bounce back in this game, and they did just that. Cal will be hoping this game propels it with great energy into its season finale against USC. While it will be a tough match, a victory against USC would give the Bears a 3-3 MPSF record and wrap up the season on a high note. The Spartans are not as talented as the Trojans, but the Bears hit a rough patch in an otherwise good season and were in need of a spark to have a chance against USC.
Leo Liu covers women’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected]