Flashback to December 2016. The No. 3 Cal men’s water polo team jumps into the pool at the Spieker Aquatics Complex as the final buzzer rings, signaling the Bears’ 11-8 overtime National Championship win over No.1 USC.
Almost a year later, in a little shorter but just as dramatic of a fashion, the No. 2 Bears (18-1, 2-0) decisively defeated the No. 1 Trojans (22-2, 1-1), 6-3. Unlike last time around, Cal held on to a lead captured in the second period, all while missing its best player senior Luca Cupido.
“My biggest concern was that we would try too hard, and you would see guys pressing and trying to get out of their own lane,” said Cal head coach Kirk Everist. “He’s a big piece, he’s a big voice of our defense. But, everybody started talking and communicating, and we were able to at least force them to shoot quick. And then Kevin (Le Vine) was in the right spots a lot.”
Having a goalkeeper in Le Vine, who has quickly established himself as one of the top in the NCAA, is definitely useful. His 18 saves and permittance of only 3 goals looked pretty similar to former goalkeeper Lazar Andric’s legendary MVP performance last season. Everist seems to have a knack for recruiting and developing excellent goalies.
“We tried to force (USC) to shoot in certain spots and take away certain things, and the defense in front of him did that, and he was where he was supposed to be,” Everist said. “There’s a lot of empty net there, but if they rush the shooter, they don’t have time to really look for it, and they have to shoot where we want them to shoot, and hopefully our goalie is in that spot. Kevin’s a good goalie, and he was able to get a couple great blocks there.”
While Le Vine put on quite a show on defense, the team as a whole gave Le Vine the support he needed to keep shots away from the net. Cal started off the game down 1-0 by the end of the first period, after a goal by USC senior James Walters.
The Bears were determined to come away with the victory and took a 3-1 lead by the half. A goal by senior Conor Neumann tied the game up at one apiece just 20 seconds into the second quarter. Adding on to his already great season, sophomore Spencer Farrar scored 2 in a row to give Cal a cushion.
In the third quarter, the Trojans outscored the Bears 2-1, but Cal maintained a 4-3 lead heading into fourth. Cal put the nail in the coffin in the fourth quarter, holding the Trojans scoreless. A goal by junior Odysseas Masmanidis off an exclusion on Baron and a goal by Neumann in the last minute were more than enough to secure the win.
“This last game game, against USC, our home pool, our biggest game arguably of the season, I’ve been looking forward to it, focusing on this game the entire season,” Le Vine said. “It feels good to take down a giant such as USC, and we proved that we’re not one to mess with.”
Taylor Choe covers men’s water polo. Contact her at [email protected]