You win some, you lose some.
The old adage rang true for Cal this weekend.
No. 3 Cal women’s water polo struggled Saturday in a 12-9 loss to No. 2 Stanford but rebounded a day later to win, 8-3, against No. 4 UCLA.
The second-seeded Bears had earned a quarterfinal bye because of their impressive 4-1 conference record, and they entered the MPSF tournament with their eyes on the prize.
It seemed that they would have a shot at the title halfway through the second period, as they had built a 4-2 lead against the Cardinal. But Stanford answered with a furious 9-3 run and put the game away late.
“We’re getting up on teams by two, but we have to make strides and get up by three or four,” said Cal head coach Coralie Simmons. “In some ways, we have to just put the nail in the coffin, and I thought we didn’t capitalize on some easier looks that would have allowed us to capture the game.”
A win against the Cardinal would have improved the Bears’ head-to-head record to 2-1, and it would have given the Bears a chance to avenge their only conference loss, to then-No.3 USC, in the MPSF Championship.
Nevertheless, Cal showed impressive resilience in the next match against UCLA. The Bears’ defense turned it on and allowed only three goals against their talented intrastate rival. Senior Carla Carrega set the defensive tone early, with a masterful steal saving a likely goal on a UCLA six-on-four power play.
Junior goalie Madison Tagg had a couple of incredible saves, allowing only one goal in the first half. She recorded eight saves in each of the Bears’ games this weekend.
Senior Anna Illes stopped the Bruins from a potential goal with a clutch steal on a fast break late in the second.
“We did a lot better taking pressure off the ball and communicating with each other,” Simmons said. “Defense has been our standard, which is exciting for me to say, and we’ve come leaps and bounds on that end.”
The Bears also showcased individual talent on offense against the Bruins. Freshman Kitty Lynn Joustra was able to penetrate the middle and earn an exclusion early.
Sophomore stud Emma Wright and Carrega led Cal with two goals each. Wright also earned a hat trick against the Cardinal the previous day.
After scoring three goals total in the conference tournament, senior star Dóra Antal will only need four more to break into the top-10 MPSF all-time scoring list.
Even so, the Bears gear up for the coming NCAA tournament with a touch of disappointment.
“We wanted to be in the final. We wanted another chance to play USC, at our place,” Simmons said.
In a historic season for Cal that has included record-breaking and thrilling victories, the postseason will determine how the year is remembered.
The road to an NCAA title would likely involve defeating the No. 1 ranked Trojans, so the Bears may just get their wish.
Dev Navani covers women’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].