No. 3 Cal men’s water polo travels South to face No. 8 UCSB

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Phillip Downey/File

Only a month into the fall men’s water polo season, there is still time and opportunity for improvement. For teams such as the No. 3 Cal men’s water polo team (11-1), the chances of that depend on newer players in certain positions; it would be no surprise for the team to look totally different at the end of the season. And luckily, for teams with programs as strong as the Bears’, improvement is almost inevitable. By the time the postseason comes along, so much about the competition between teams can change.

“Right now, (we’re) just getting used to each other and figuring out how this team is going to work,” said Cal head coach Kirk Everist. “We have a lot of young players and a lot of players who have been gone for most of the summer and a lot of the spring with the national team. So just kind of getting on the same page is something we definitely need to focus on.”

This weekend, Cal will have an opportunity to continue the defensive focus it has shown off thus far as it travels to Southern California to face No. 8 USCB (8-4). The two last faced each other in the Triton Invitational earlier in the season, with the Bears winning a closer-than-it-should-have-been 8-7 match.

Offensively, players on the Gauchos to watch out for are sophomore Ivan Gvozdanovic, junior Boris Jovanovic and senior Shane Hauschild, who lead the team in goals with 21, 18 and 17, respectively. Jovanovic and Hauschild also have the most assists on the team, with 10 apiece.

“They shoot the ball really well from the perimeter, so we’re going to try to have to limit their time with the ball,” Everist said. “They have two or three players that are really good outside shooters. We have to limit their looks and how much time they have, kind of rush them a little bit. That’s a key to their game, for sure.”

Cal will certainly be expected to win this match, boasting three players ranked the top 10 for scoring per game in the MPSF lead by first-ranked junior Johnny Hooper, second-ranked senior Luca Cupido and sixth-ranked junior Odysseas Masmanidis.

“We have really good right-handed attackers with (Cupido), (Carniglia) and Hooper, so that’s a strength,” Everist said. “And we’re very good at center with (Masmanidis), (senior) Pedro (Stellet) and (sophomore) Jordan Hoover, so that’s our main strengths.”

In addition to the superstars are senior Connor Neumann, sophomore Safak Simsek, redshirt sophomore Jordan Hoover, redshirt junior Vassilis Tzavaras and freshman Cameron Wright, who have all been significant contributions to the team this season. Goalkeepers redshirt sophomore Spencer Tagg and senior Kevin Le Vine have been switching off and playing well in goal.

Although Cal fell a little short at the MPSF tournament semifinals against UCLA last week, it was an incredibly close game against a fellow top team in the country. Every team has its strengths and weaknesses, and while the Bears clearly have the talent, sometimes it takes a little while for a team to be in sync. Cal is still adjusting, and if it can play this well so early in the season with new players in the starting lineup, it will be exciting to see how it looks toward the end of the season.

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

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