Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. The clock continued to wind down — and with it, the hopes of the Cal women’s water polo team. After entering the fourth quarter of their game against No. 1 Stanford with a two-goal deficit, the Bears managed to make it a one-goal game with 3:27 left in the game. The clock, however, seemed to tick with a distinct Cardinal fervor, as it was Cal’s enemy in this one.
The No. 4 Bears (14-3) launched an all-out attack on offense in these last few minutes, but they came up short and lost to the Cardinal, 7-6, in the UC Irvine Invitational semifinal round. Cal would go on to take fourth place in the tournament, as it lost, 12-6, to No. 3 USC later that day.
It was a tough ending to a weekend and tournament that had started triumphantly for the Bears on Saturday. They won two games, defeating No. 13 UC Davis, 10-2, and No. 5 UC Irvine, 10-6, to successfully get out of their group. These were milestone wins for Cal, as head coach Richard Corso notched his 200th career win.
“I have never thought about it — I never think about it,” Corso said. “I’m more interested that we play well and in how our kids are doing in school and what they do after school. I’m not in it for the wins and the losses — those take care of themselves, if you put a good product out there.”
After the celebration of Corso’s success, the team will have to set its eyes on examining its losses against USC and Stanford, which are indicative of a larger problem for the Bears in the last few seasons. Although they are able to separate themselves from most of the country, when it comes to playing other powerhouses in their sport, Cal seems to come up short. This is indicated by a 0-11 record against No. 2 UCLA — who was Cal’s other loss this season — Stanford and USC in the last two seasons.
The loss to the Cardinal may have set a blueprint for the Bears to see what they need to improve upon to compete for the championship. This is especially true of the game against the Cardinal, which was enough of a squeaker that it seemed as if Cal was going to reverse its losing trend against the top teams in the sport. In fact, going into halftime, the Bears were the better team. With the 4-2 lead it gave away in the third quarter, Cal would be outscored, 5-1, in the third period, on its way to the 7-6 loss.
These weren’t exactly the “bad-news Bears,” as they demonstrated in their fairly dominant showing in the games against Irvine and Davis. Cal played stifling defense, especially against the Aggies, who Cal held to their lowest output of the season.
Sophomore goalie Madeline Trabucco had more work to do in between the posts than she’s typically had this season, but played well. She saved 17 shots in the two wins and averaged 7.5 per game this weekend, after averaging just fewer than five saves per game heading into the weekend.
Cal will look for the strong defense it displayed for much of the weekend to be bolstered by a better showing from the offense, especially the stars, such as sophomores Dora Antal, Anna Illes and Roser Tarrago: Cal’s leading scorers, who combined for only three goals in the team’s two losses. This was especially abnormal, as they combined to average more than seven goals per game heading into the weekend.
If they can put all the pieces together, the Bears could be back on track to competing with the rest of the nation’s best and being one of the favorites for the NCAA national championship.
Hooman Yazdanian covers women’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].