In battle of two top 10 teams, Cal women’s water polo looks to defeat San Jose State

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Most sports do not tolerate any deliberate, major fouls such as wrapping your arms around someone from behind. Women’s water polo does — that is, if you don’t get caught.

Just ask the center.

The Bears’ starting center, senior Dana Ochsner, is no newcomer to this type of physical play. This weekend will be no exception, as the No. 5 Bears (13-5, 1-3) take on No. 10 San Jose State (10-8, 0-3) this Saturday at noon at the San Jose State Aquatics Center.

The Bears have already faced the Spartans once, defeating them, 12-6, at the Stanford Invitational earlier this season. The Bears’ center is the heart of this high-scoring offense.

The center is the player set up at the two-meter line, closest to the opposing cage. Centers take most of the hits, which include minor fouls like preventing a player without the ball from moving to major fouls like dunking. Being so close to the cage gives the center prime position to score, but it also means the center is most susceptible to major fouls.

“There’s a lot of holding and grabbing and kicking,” Ochsner said. “My mom always freaks out because she’s like, ‘You’re being drowned!’ and I’m like ‘Mom, it happens every game.’”

While the referees may be able to call the fouls that happen above the surface, under the water, there are fouls taking place only the players can feel.

“You’re fighting a lot of the time with teams who drop back, so the whole time you just have to hold your position right in front of the cage, fighting and working without really getting the ball a lot of times,” Ochsner said.

The center also dictates how the offense starts its attack. Ochsner has the added pressure of picking which side the team will attack from based on the defender’s position.

“I pick a side and hold it so that my team knows where to put the ball, and if people are dropping off to defend me, it helps the people on the outside to shoot,” Ochsner said.

This weekend, Ochsner will be pitted against the Spartans starting two-meter, freshman Rae Lekness. Lekness has 41 goals for the season, making her San Jose State’s top scorer.

Although the center position is prime for scoring, Cal continues to work on balancing the shot selection between the centers and drivers.

“We have very good centers and we look for them quite a bit, and we have amazing shooters, so I think in the future, we’ll probably look to shoot a bit more from the outside,” said senior Emily Csikos.

While water polo in general is an extremely physical sport, the center is certainly a brute position. But for Ochsner, who has been playing water polo for 10 years, it’s just another day.

“That’s what everyone always says, ‘You’re the one that gets beat up right?’ I have plenty of scars and bruises to prove it,” Ochsner said.

Ochsner and the Bears are looking for their second win in MPSF play this weekend by defeating the Spartans. And hopefully there won’t be too much dunking involved — but that’s doubtful.

Alicia Fong covers women’s water polo. Contact her at [email protected]