Cal men’s water polo sweeps through season openers in San Diego

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Sally Dowd/File

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The Cal men’s water polo team was able to escape its opening weekend with an unblemished record while receiving solid tests from its opponents at the Triton Invitational in San Diego. As it stands, the Bears, ranked No. 3 in the preseason poll, have now kicked off their season with a 4-0 record.

Cal is pretty used to hot starts having gone undefeated in its opening tournaments each of the last six years. The team knew this weekend would not be a breeze, especially with the absence of its senior leader, Johnny Hooper, who did not travel with the Bears down to San Diego because of training commitments with Team USA in preparation for the FINA World Cup.

“Somebody’s got to step up and manufacture goals that Johnny would normally just get,” said Cal head coach Kirk Everist ahead of Hooper’s absence. “It’s going to be a challenge, but we’ve known that we wouldn’t have him this weekend for a while now.”

With that being said, Cal stepped up to its coach’s call and wasted no time in the first game against Air Force on Saturday. The Bears shot out to a 10-2 lead by halftime and did not look back the rest of the game, eventually closing out the Falcons 16-5. Senior All-American Odysseas Masmanidis led the way with three first-quarter goals, while junior Chase Hamming and sophomore Nikos Delagrammatikas also scored thrice each.

Later that day, Cal continued to dominate the competition with a 19-3 beatdown of Concordia. Once again, it was Masmanidis who topped the score sheet with four goals for the Bears.

Sunday’s matches were much more competitive. The Bears got stiff tests from UC Santa Barbara and UC Irvine, two up-and-coming schools on the national water polo scene.

“UCI and UCSB are two of the better teams from the Golden Coast Conference, and they provided a tough challenge for us right away,” Everist said.

Unsurprisingly, it was Masmanidis who carried the Bears past the Anteaters 15-12 with four goals from their superstar senior. Delagrammatikas and junior Spencer Farrar backed him up with three goals each to lift Cal over the edge in this offensive showdown.

Cal closed out its weekend of play with a 12-9 victory over UCSB. The Bears got strong performances from other key players in its loaded lineup this go-around. Senior Vassilis Tzavaras and junior Safak Simsek tallied three goals each in the close win.

After the graduation of last year’s starting goalkeeper, Kevin Le Vine, the question of his replacement was finally answered this weekend. Ultimately, junior Bernardo Carelli snagged the spot in the cage for the Bears.

Although the Bears fell behind only once this weekend, the Gauchos and Anteaters both managed to keep their respective matches at narrow margins until the final buzzer.

With even tougher tests in the coming weeks, Cal has put itself in position to prepare for more victories. The Bears handled business this weekend and can now work towards larger goals of their season.

Charlie Griffen covers men’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].