There’s no more room for error for the No. 4 Cal women’s water polo team. In order for the Bears to keep their national championship hopes alive, they cannot afford any drastic slip-ups.
On Friday afternoon, Cal (17-7, 2-4 MPSF) will be looking at one of its most crucial games this season when the team travels south to the Uytengsu Aquatics Center in Los Angeles to take on No. 5 San Jose State in the quarterfinals of the MPSF tournament.
“The only thing we’re concerned about right now is the game on Friday,” said Cal head coach Richard Corso. “(Those) four quarters. It’s only about those 32 minutes. That’s the only thing that matters right now.”
Led by freshman Clara Espar Llaquet’s 92 goals, the Spartans’ (20-11, 2-4) game plan Friday won’t be complicated. They’re going to try to outgun Cal.
“We have got to keep them under 10 goals,” Corso said. “They look to play offense. They really love to play offense, and we’re going to have to play great team defense, which I know we’re capable of there.”
As simple as that sounds, San Jose State averages 12.16 goals a game. For Cal, keeping an offense as potent as the Spartans’ to under double digits isn’t going to be an easy task.
Featuring seven players with 20 or more goals this season, San Jose State’s diverse offense can attack from various spots and force the Bears to pay attention to multiple threats in the half-court set.
The last time these two teams faced, in early march, Cal won. But, the Bears allowed double-digit goals and had to rely on a commanding six-goal performance from freshman Roser Tarrago to narrowly pull away, 12-10.
In order for the Bears to contain the Spartan offense, they will need to play a clean game on the defensive end. Struggling with penalties many times this season, the defense has struggled when putting itself in unfavorable six-on-five situations.
There are many times where calls have gone against the Bears. But on Friday, they cannot afford to put themselves in a situation where their fate is left in the officials’ hands. In order to avoid the calls that can go either way, Cal must stay organized on defense.
“There’s a lot more talking (this week in practice),” Corso said. “There’s a lot more video this time of the year than, let’s say, eight to 10 weeks ago. So from that perspective, there’s more preparation.”
A win Friday would mean the Bears advance to the semifinals Saturday for a rematch of the Big Splash, against No. 1 Stanford. But, more importantly, a win means that Cal will, at the very worst, be No. 4 in the MPSF, regardless of what happens in the rest of the tournament.
And that’s what the Bears are going to need: a top-four finish, which will almost certainly be enough for a ticket to the national championship. At this point, the only goal is to put the Spartans away.
“I’m only talking to the girls about how we’re starting against San Jose St. and taking one quarter at a time, one possession at a time,” Corso said. “That’s all we’re going to talk about this week. And then once we’re successful with that, we have 24 hours to get ready again.”
Richard Lee covers women’s water polo. Contact him at Contact him at [email protected].