Aztecs hope to ruin Ochsner’s homecoming

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San Diego has become a hub of competitive water polo and a wellspring of young water polo talent.

Cal junior Dana Ochsner grew up in this water polo community, playing top high school and club teams throughout her upbringing. She will return to San Diego with the No. 5 Cal women’s water polo team when its plays No. 8 San Diego State on Saturday at 1 p.m.

In her homecoming, Ochsner counts on family and friends filling the Aztec Aquaplex for the MPSF league match. Unfortunately for Ochsner, many of those friends will be wearing the black and scarlet of San Diego State, making the contest a battle between old friends and new rivals.

To make Ochsner’s return successful, Cal will look to start strong, especially up against one of the best keepers in the nation.

“I have club teammates on San Diego (State), and I played many of them in high school,” Ochsner said. “I know them, and they are good.”

One of the athletes that Ochsner has known throughout her water polo career is San Diego State senior keeper Kelly Campoli, a four-year starter who has earned an honorable mention for all-American in all four seasons. She has cemented her legacy as one of the best Aztecs to ever play the game despite her small size for a goalie, measuring only 5-foot-7.

“I don’t know how she does it but she moves really well,” Ochsner said. “She tricks you because you think, ‘oh, she’s not that big,’ but then when you shoot she earns your respect.”

In 85 quarters this season, Campoli ranks first in the MPSF in total saves with 252. While many teams split time between keepers, the Aztecs (16-6, 1-3 in the MPSF) have only pulled Campoli for three quarters all season.

Yet despite her impressive resume, Cal (15-5, 2-1) sees her low ranking in average goals allowed (7.01 GAA) and understands she is beatable.

“She has a lot of saves under her belt, but I told the girls to put the ball in the back of the net,” said Cal coach Richard Corso. “She is a good goalie, but she is one person.”

On top of beating Campoli, Cal will need to avoid another slow start on the road, a problem that has plagued the Bears all year.

Cal has lost three of its last four games, all on the road, because of first-half difficulties that forced the Bears to play from behind and abandon their patient, ball control approach.

“We have addressed first quarter struggles a lot,” Corso said. “We talk about it every day.”

The Bears have had plenty of days to try to fix the issue over their two-week hiatus from MPSF competition. The break gave the squad an opportunity to regroup and focus on coming out strong against SDSU in a hostile environment.

“It’s hard on the road to come from behind,” Corso said. “Once they get momentum and the crowd gets into it, SDSU can sustain a run.”