Long periods of time without match play can give a team time to rest, but they also give a team time to let itself rust. After a week and a half since its last match, the No. 3 Cal men’s water polo team is set to face No. 6 UCI (10 – 4) and No. 16 SJSU (8-7) on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Against a high level of competition, it will be exciting to see how the Bears have made use of their break.
Of the two opponents for the weekend, the Anteaters will definitely be the more difficult. About two weeks ago, in a shocking turn of events, UCI defeated No. 2 UCLA 9-8 in Irvine. This season, UCI’s top scorer is senior senior Lovre Milos, who leads the team with 46 goals so far, in addition to having 16 assists and 17 steals. He is followed by freshman Fynn Schuetze, who has recorded 30, of which 4 came from the win against the Bruins.
UCI has typically been a pretty strong team as of late, but it has never really busted the top-five barrier, usually losing to teams such as UCLA, USC, Cal and Stanford. The Anteaters’ recent win against the Bruins, however, should give them confidence going into this weekend. UCI has nothing to lose by this match, so all the pressure will be on Cal to perform at a high caliber.
Sunday’s game against the Spartans should be a fairly easy win for the Bears. The last time Cal played SJ State was last season, when the Bears won handily, 16-9. The Spartans will also be traveling down to Santa Barbara on Friday to face No. 8 UCSB, which will be another tough match for them. This game should be decided pretty quickly, unless the Bears have fallen completely out of competition shape.
On Cal’s side, the usual pair of star seniors, Luca Cupido and Nic Carniglia, and juniors Johnny Hooper and Odysseas Masmanidis are all offensive threats, no matter the opponent. Cupido is currently leading the team in goals with 33, followed by Hooper and Masmanidis, who both have 27.
In addition, seniors Pedro Stellet and Conor Neumann, redshirt junior Vassilis Tzavaras and sophomore Safak Simsek are all dependable players with a lot of experience. Some newer faces, freshmen Cameron Wright and Nikos Delagrammatikas, have been making an impact in the pool as well, both receiving big minutes. Senior Kevin Le Vine seems to have taken over the starting goalkeeper position, winning MPSF Player of the Week after his strong performance against UCSB, making 17 saves.
With a stellar offense and many rising young stars to add the the already-solid starters, Cal is arguably the top team in the NCAA. Being one of the best, however, comes at a price — in addition to the pressure to consistently perform at a high level, winners have a target on their backs. For teams like the Bears, there are always higher expectations and bigger disappointments. Everyone always wants to beat the team at the top. The Bears have worked hard to get to where they are, and while one loss isn’t much of a deal in the grand scheme of things, what team ever wants to lose?
Taylor Choe covers men’s water polo. Contact her at [email protected]lycal.org