Cal looking for respect in Big Splash

Michael Tao/File
The No. 5 Cal women's water polo team will face No. 2 Stanford for the second time this season on Saturday.

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After the No. 5 Cal women’s water polo team beat No. 1 UCLA last Saturday, coach Richard Corso finally felt his team was playing up to its potential.

Apparently the rest of the water polo world didn’t think so.

“I’m sick of people telling us it was an upset,” Corso said. “No, it was not an upset. One hundred people have come up to me and said, ‘Great upset win.’ Baloney.”

The Bears (17-6, 4-2 in the MPSF) travel to No. 2 Stanford (19-1, 5-0) this Saturday in a 4 p.m. game that Corso and Cal hope to win not for respect but for a more favorable seeding in the MPSF tournament.

Stanford and Cal have already met earlier this year at the UCI Invitational. The Cardinal made quick work of the Bears, scoring six goals in the first period. The loss came in the middle of a tough 6-5 stretch for Cal in which its first period struggles were highlighted week after week.

Although Stanford is coming off a thrilling overtime victory against No. 3 USC, Cal feels it has just as much momentum as — if not more than — the Cardinal right now. In the win against the Bruins, the Bears showed they have vastly improved their own intensity in the first half of games. Cal thinks it must come out strong in what will certainly be a hostile environment in Avery Aquatic Center.

When analyzing the Cardinal, the first thing that jumps out is the squad’s incredible goal spread. The team ranks first in the MPSF in both goals per game (12.8) and goals allowed per game (4.8).

No. 5 Cal has yet to meet such a balanced team — one with a stout defense combined with an explosive offense.

Then there’s also the incredible play of individuals on the team. Cardinal junior keeper Kate Baldoni blocks 9.93 shots per game and only allows 4.65 goals/game. Offensively, Stanford has five scorers in the top 20 in the MPSF, three of whom are freshman.

Facing these daunting statistics, Corso’s Bears are not intimidated.

“All the stats don’t mean anything,” Corso said. “It’s what happens during the four quarters. More importantly, it’s what happens on that day.”

Practices leading up to the Big Splash have shown how driven the athletes are to fix every flaw with the postseason just around the corner.

“The success last weekend came from a great week of practice,” said senior Elizabeth McLaren. “This week we are going to try and keep up that intensity and transfer that over into the weekend game.”

Cal’s offensive effort will fall on the shoulders of junior Breda Vosters and sophomore Ashley Young. After scoring four goals against the Bruins, Vosters earned MPSF Player of the Week honors. Vosters and her teammates know they need to come up big in a tough road environment under the lights. Corso thinks they are prepared.

“I tell the girls that’s why they play the game,” Corso said. “It’s for the big nights like these.”