To most spectators, the No. 1 Cal men’s water polo team’s (5-0) 15-10 win against No. 9 Davis (3-2) on Wednesday night would have looked like a blow-out performance by the Bears. But to a team that is trying to defend its national championship title, winning alone isn’t enough. So, for Cal, expectations are a little higher than most teams.
“I thought the first half they did a pretty good job,” Cal head coach Kirk Everist said. “The second half was super sloppy. We didn’t do what we wanted to do, and our plan was unrealistic. We were trying to make flashy plays instead of just playing. The game got away from us a little bit defensively.”
The Bears were up 5-2 by the end of first quarter after goals from juniors Odysseas Masmanidis and Johnny Hooper, senior and Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Player of the Week Pedro Stellet and fellow senior Nic Carniglia. By the half, Cal led 8-4 and just kept extending its lead to 12-6 by the end of the third period.
In his first game back, Hooper did not disappoint, leading the Bears in goals with four. Following the junior were Masmanidis and senior Luca Cupido with three goals apiece. In goal for Cal was redshirt sophomore Spencer Tagg, who made a few saves that were worthy of replacing the graduated star goalie Lazar Andric.With another win under their belt, the Bears have a few days until their Saturday match versus No. 5 Pacific (4-0).
“They’re a very active team, similar to Davis,” Everist said. “It’s a good opening game for us for the week. We’ll see a team that’s similar — that moves a lot, that slides and centers out, and drives different people in. We’re going to have to adjust from how we played last night because we’ll see a very similar style on Saturday.”
Just like in seasons past, the Tigers should be expected to put up a big fight. With four players who’ve scored 10 or more goals each in their first four games, it makes sense as to why they’re off to a good start. Attackers redshirt senior Kale Ai and sophomore Engin Ege Colak lead the team in goals, with both collecting 15 so far.
The Bears appear to be expecting a strong Pacific offense. Despite the Tigers’ success so far, they have not played any team with a top-10 ranking. The previous meeting between the two in the 2016 season resulted in a 14-10 win for Cal. And although the Bears have lost key defensive players, they still have their core offense to hopefully bring them a win.
Freshmen Nikos Delagrammatikas and Ryan Hurst will play important parts in helping to fill the gap left by the graduated defenders Farrel South, Thomas Carroll and Chandler Jarrels. Pacific will be a good early-season test for Cal, with the Tigers being among the top teams in the MPSF as well as the NCAA. The Bears are clearly aware of what they need to work on, and playing at home should be an obvious advantage for them. This should be a challenging match for Cal, but it should ultimately be able to come up with the win.
Taylor Choe covers men’s water polo. Contact her at [email protected]