The mantra of Cal women’s water polo has been to get better every day, regardless of a win or loss.
But now, there is not much time for getting better. The No. 3 Bears (19-5, 4-1) will head to USC’s Uytengsu Aquatic Center for the NCAA tournament to test just how good they are.
One of the strongest seasons in Cal’s recent history has earned it the third seed in the tournament. Cal will face Michigan in the quarterfinals Friday evening.
The Bears nabbed a somewhat disappointing third-place finish two weekends ago in the MPSF tournament, which they hosted. A semifinal loss to No. 2 Stanford placed them in the third-place match against No. 4 UCLA.
Cal did miss some opportunities on the way to the NCAA championships. An April 7 loss to then-No. 3 USC lost the Bears the chance at a clean sweep of the conference and their first outright MPSF regular season title. Early losses to both USC and UCLA hurt their stock and continued losing streaks from past seasons.
But these results have not overshadowed a fantastic season for the Bears. After ripping off three straight tough conference wins against conference rivals Stanford, UCLA and Arizona State, the Bears held sole possession of the top ranking for a brief period of time.
This was the first accomplishment of its kind since April 2000.
Senior star and three-time First Team All-American Dora Antal broke the all-time Cal goals record in early February. Antal will only need four more goals to break into the MPSF top-10 all time scoring list, which would be a first for a Cal player.
The two-time Hungarian Olympian was also named to the All-MPSF First Team recently, becoming the seventh player in history to earn this honor four times.
Joining her on the first team was senior Anna Illes, who has also won a form of recognition from the conference during her stellar four years as a Bear.
Senior Carla Carrega was named to the All-MPSF Second Team, while sophomore Emma Wright and freshman Kitty Lynn Joustra received honorable mentions.
The awards reflect what has been a talented and balanced roster for the Bears, who totaled seven individual honors for Cal.
Most important, however, is the team’s achievements. Cal has managed to defeat both Stanford and UCLA this season, and will likely have another opportunity against USC in the tournament should it advance far enough. A win against the Trojans would break a losing streak that has held since 2012.
The Bears could face the Cardinal for the fourth time this season in the semifinals if Cal defeats Michigan and Stanford defeats UC Irvine. USC would then likely follow in the title game.
This schedule is similar to what Cal faced in the MPSF tournament, with Stanford and potentially USC following. But this time around, the Bears will be hoping the results will be different.
Dev Navani covers women’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].