No. 1 Cal men’s water polo looks to remain undefeated against ranked opponents

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Phillip Downey/File

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There are very few moments that come close to the exhilaration and emotion brought on by winning. It’s one of those things that, once you have a little taste of what it feels like, you want even more.

The No. 1 Cal men’s water polo team (6-0) surely remembers exactly how incredible it felt to win the 2016 NCAA Championship. Similar to last season, the Bears seem to be cruising through their schedule so far, having yet to lose a match. But at the same time, Cal has yet to face the two biggest challengers — USC and UCLA — in its quest to defend the title.

This Friday, Cal will come up against an undefeated No. 8 Pepperdine (9-0). The Waves’ impressive record, however, is very deceptive. Knowing that Pepperdine’s nines wins and average of almost 13 goals per game come from playing teams such as Concordia, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, MIT and Harvard makes its record a lot less impressive. In addition having defeated the Waves 12-7 the last time the two played in Malibu, Cal has the automatic benefit of home-field advantage.

“We’ve given up a few too many goals the last couple games and we’re trying to gear our focus in on the defensive end and put a little bit more energy into that,” Cal head coach Kirk Everist said. “We have a lot of offense on our team, and we’re trying to channel the energy on both ends of the field.”

Less than 24 hours later, the Bears will face off against No. 13 UC San Diego (2-5), which will feature a friendly sibling rivalry as senior Nic Carniglia takes on his younger brother San Diego sophomore Noah Carniglia. This will be the second time the two teams have met this season, with the first as part of the Triton Invitational, where Cal won 12-7.

“We’ve seen San Diego already so we’ve got a pretty good idea of what they bring,” Everist said. “Pepperdine is kind of an unknown right now. We know their personnel. We have to figure out their style and how they’re going to play as we go.”

Both games should not be too much of a challenge and the Bears should come away without a scratch to their perfect record. With 2016 Olympian senior Luca Cupido, Brazilian Junior National team member senior Pedro Stellet, two US National Team members in Carniglia and junior Johnny Hooper, and two Greek Junior National Team members in junior Odysseas Masmanidis and freshman Nikos Delagrammatikas, the Bears playing against mediocre collegiate teams almost seems unfair.

Years of building up its program have earned the Bears their well-deserved strong global reputation. The talent on the team runs deep, and paired with a desire to recapture the title, Cal might just have what it takes to repeat.

Taylor Choe covers men’s water polo. Contact her at [email protected]