Cal just might be the hottest team in NCAA men’s water polo. The defending national champions have asserted themselves as a force to be reckoned with and it doesn’t look like anyone can stop them. The Bears (17-1) boosted their regular season resume this weekend with decisive wins over No. 2 UCLA and No. 8 Long Beach State.
Cal was anxious to set the record straight Saturday against the only team it had fallen to this season (by one goal in overtime). At UCLA’s Spieker Aquatics Center, the Bears started out hot, taking an early 2-0 lead. Cal junior Johnny Hooper made his mark in his hometown early, scoring off of an outlet pass from junior Kevin Le Vine in the first quarter.
Pushing deeper into the first, UCLA Senior Matt Farmer scored his first goal of the day as part of 3-0 Bruin run. A power-play goal by Cal sophomore Safak Simsek with one second left in the period evened the score at 3 apiece and took away what would become UCLA’s only lead of the game.
Farmer stayed hot in the next period, putting up two goals along with five saves from the Bruins’ goalie to keep the game tight. But thanks to goals from seniors Luca Cupido and Conor Neumann as well as two from junior Odysseas Masmanidis, the Bears headed to the locker room up 7-6.
In the third quarter, thanks to a strong defensive effort and a chugging attack, the Bears pushed UCLA into a significant 10-7 deficit. UCLA was unable to come back as Cal scored two fourth- quarter skip goals and Masmanidis’ third goal making a final score of 12-9.
Recent history between these teams makes every match-up feel enormous. In last postseason’s semifinals, Cal dispatched the Bruins in OT and it’s highly likely they will meet again this year. In pulling off the huge win in Westwood didn’t distract the Bears from taking care of business on Sunday against Long Beach State.
“It’s a veteran team and they’ve been through this before,” said Cal head coach Kirk Everist. “I felt like it was a mentality game, about how we were gonna bounce back after the emotional game the day before … knowing that we were going to make a quick reversal in a 24-hour period.”
Cal headed to face some familiar opponents in the Long Beach State 49ers, whose head coach Gavin Arroyo is a former Cal men’s water polo assistant.
The first quarter in Long Beach passed in a defensive struggle, finishing tied at 1-1. The second period, however, featured a blast of Cal offensive production. They finished out the half up 7-3, posting a lead from which the Beach could not return. Cal would go on to win 14-8 thanks to a far superior shooting accuracy than the 49ers; the Bears shot 14 of 35 while Long Beach went eight for 37.
Cal wields overwhelming individual talent with three 2016 All-Americans: Luca Cupido, whose fifty goals over the season lead the MPSF, Odysseas Masmanidis and Johnny Hooper. But this last pair of games was an exhibition of what Cal can do up and down the roster.
“This weekend we got really good contributions from other people which just makes it harder for teams to kinda zone in on one guy and try to double team … because other players are making them pay for it” Everist said.
Armen Aprahamian covers men’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected]