There seem to be two categories when it comes to men’s water polo — the competitors and everyone else. For what feels like an eternity, teams outside of Cal, UCLA, USC, Stanford — and sometimes Pacific and UCSB — were routinely demolished by the California powerhouses. As Cal starts its title defense, this doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon.
So, when the No. 1 Cal men’s water polo team plays in its first matches of the 2017 season this weekend, similar results should be expected. And after a busy summer for many players with international play, the Bears appear to be in a strong position to compete for another title.
“We’re just putting it all together,” said Cal head coach Kirk Everist. “We’ve had so many people out. It was a great opportunity for some of our younger guys to get lots of minutes at the club level over the summer with the national team guys gone, so we’ve got a lot of development from the depth standpoint.”
On Saturday, the Bears are set to face Loyola Marymount in Westchester for the Triton Invitational. The Lions were ranked in the top 20 at the end of last season, but No. 1 against No. 20 is still a massive jump, so this should be a pretty easy win.
“We’ve been keeping it kind of simple, and just … getting everybody ready to compete this weekend is important,” Everist said. “We’re not going to do too many things too drastically different than we’ve had in the past. We know our strengths, and we’re going to play to them.”
The Bears will continue to participate in the Triton Invitational that afternoon and the next morning, but their next two opponents have yet to be assigned. Regardless, Cal should be coming home with a 3-0 record after this weekend.
Expectations are high for the Bears, but that’s nothing they aren’t used to. Much of the roster is filled with returning players from last years’ championship team, including three U.S. national team players in seniors Luca Cupido and Nic Carniglia and junior Johnny Hooper. Cal’s roster also consists of many international recruits, displaying its water polo prestige around the world.
Freshman Nikos Delagrammatikas will be joining fellow Greeks junior Odysseas Masmanidis and redshirt junior Vassilis Tzavaras. Delagrammatikas is set to help replace the void left by graduated defenders Farrel South, Thomas Carroll and Chandler Jarrels. He should be prepared, considering he and Masmanidis helped Greece win gold in the FINA Junior World Championships. Senior Pedro Stellet, the Bears’ co-captain, also competed for his home country this summer, playing for Brazil in the FINA World Championships.
Cal’s depth is seemingly never-ending, which isn’t surprising for a championship team looking to defend its title. Other returning players to look out for are seniors Conor Neumann — an honorable mention All-American — and Kevin Le Vine, who is competing for the starting goalkeeper position. Brazilian sophomore Bernardo Carelli and redshirt sophomore Spencer Tagg are also in the race to replace the recently graduated star goalie Lazar Andric. Another sophomore, Safak Simsek, should be projected to have another strong season, after ranking second for scoring on the team in his freshman season.
Of its many strengths, Cal’s experience appears to be the one where it has the greatest advantage. And with such a deep, star-studded lineup, it’s not hard to imagine the Bears with another title.
Taylor Choe covers men’s water polo. Contact her at [email protected]