No. 3 Cal women’s water polo to close season against No. 9 UC Davis

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Aditi Raghunath/File

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After a disappointing 11-6 loss at the hands of then-No. 3 USC on April 7, the Bears will get a late-season break — what should be an easy win — in the schedule right before the playoffs.

No. 3 Cal women’s water polo will close the season at No. 9 UC Davis on Saturday afternoon.

Cal (17-4, 3-1) defeated UC Davis (18-9, 3-2) handily in its previous three matchups against the Aggies this year; these were also matchups in which Cal was able to get many players involved and in the water. In the three wins, the Bears scored at least 14 goals by seven or more players.

“We’re going to have to keep our composure and maintain our game plan,” said Cal head coach Coralie Simmons. “They have center defenders that do a nice job and strong center play.”

Sophomore Emma Wright will enter the pool as Cal’s leading scorer with 38 goals on the year. She will need a hat trick at the least to surpass her 40 goal total from last year.

Aside from Wright and the team’s powerful offensive attack, the Bears have relied on a staunch defense this year, allowing less than six goals per game. Junior goalie Madison Tagg will begin the game with 115 saves this season — almost more than her previous two seasons combined.

“We’re going to have to play good defense and combat their ability to play a traditional style and bring physicality to the game,” Simmons said.

Beyond a win, the Bears will be searching for growth and improvement.

“We need to make sure we are putting all the underlying pieces together to create a good environment heading into the MPSF tournament,” Simmons said.

The game will cap off one of Cal’s most impressive regular seasons to date. The Bears were able to obtain sole possession of the No. 1 ranking for part of the season, something that had not been accomplished since April 2000.

Cal racked up impressive conference wins against then-No. 1 Stanford, No. 4 UCLA and No. 6 Arizona State. The win against the Bruins broke a losing streak dating back to 2011.

The Bears will also finish the season with a conference record above .500, a mark they had failed to exceed in each of the last two years.

This historic regular season success has translated to great positioning in the postseason. After USC’s 8-5 defeat of Stanford last weekend, Cal secured the No. 2 seed and a bye on Friday of the MPSF Women’s Water Polo Championships, which will take place April 27-29.

“Our lineups are really dynamic,” Simmons said. “We can substitute six for six and force teams to continually adjust throughout a game.”

This balance in the roster between younger players and veterans has made this year unique for the Bears.

“Freshmen have stepped up and pushed the team forward, and seniors have put their heart and soul into making this season special,” Simmons said.

Cal will host the tournament at Spieker Aquatics Center and will be looking to win an MPSF championship with one of its most talented groups in recent memory.

Dev Navani covers women’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].

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