It took awhile for the Bears’ engine to get started, but once it did, it was firing on all cylinders.
No. 1 Cal women’s water polo scored three unanswered goals in the fourth quarter to defeat No. 6 Arizona State, 6-3, and win their third MPSF match this season.
The win in Tempe marks the first time the Cal has entered perennially difficult MPSF play with three straight wins since 2010, and is further evidence of a Bear team that is beginning to click at the right time.
The flurry of goals left the Sun Devils (14-5, 0-1) dazed and reminded of the Bears’ (15-3, 3-0) star firepower that has them ranked first.
“It took a few quarters, but ultimately the team found their ground and made things happen,” Cal head coach Coralie Simmons said.
Sophomore Emma Wright found the back of the net twice, while seniors Dóra Antal, Anna Illés, Carla Carrega, and Kindred Paul all chipped in a goal each for the Bears as well.
More impressive than the late surge was the defense. Junior goalie Madison Tagg made a pair of fantastic saves to stave off the Sun Devils early in the fourth en route to finishing the game with 12 saves — four short of her career high set earlier this year.
“We have some of the best defenders in the country between Kindred Paul and Anna Illés,” said Simmons. “We are taking a lot of pride in what we’re doing on the defensive end, and the heart of that runs through Tagg and Paul.”
Following disappointing results at the Barbara Kalbus Invitational just a short three weekends ago, in which Cal failed to defeat conference rivals No. 3 USC and No. 4 UCLA despite holding a superior ranking, the prospect of a national title run for the Bears was in question.
But securing wins against then-No. 1 Stanford, UCLA, and Arizona State in three consecutive weekends has given the team all the confidence in the world as they prepare to enter the home stretch of the season. Still, Simmons is still preaching a mantra of improvement.
“Whatever happens in and out of games, we are trying to commit to getting better,” Simmons said.
Meanwhile, the Cal offense has had a healthy scoring distribution. Five players have scored 20 or more goals on the year.
Antal and Illés continue their charge on Cal’s all-time scoring list. Antal, who broke the previous record of 216 goals earlier in the season, has 230 and counting after this match. Illés entered the top 10 last weekend against UCLA and now has 150 career goals.
After a grueling last month of play, the Bears will receive a break of sorts in more ways than one. Cal will have 11 days of rest before its next match, a nonconference affair against No. 20 San Diego State, followed by an MPSF date with No. 21 San Jose State. The Bears should handle these matches with ease.
The next key match-up for Cal will come in Los Angeles against USC on Apr. 7. The Trojans may be the last team able to prevent the Bears from finishing with a perfect conference record.
Dev Navani covers women’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].