Up 2-1 against No. 1 UCLA with 3:18 left in the first quarter, the Cal women’s water polo team looked like it could finally be on its way to a win against one of the sport’s elite teams Sunday. What followed, however, was not a pretty sight for any Bears fans watching the game.
The Bruins went on a roll and dismantled the No. 4 Bears, putting up eight consecutive goals to put them down, 9-2, by the end of the third quarter. The teams traded goals in the fourth to make the final score a disappointing 10-3 loss for Cal.
UCLA really outperformed the Bears in all aspects of the game. The Bruins were especially adept at keeping Cal’s offense in check, as Cal managed only nine shots on goal, six of which were saved by reigning Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, or MPSF, player of the year, keeper Sami Hill. These nine shots on goal were easily the fewest the Bears have been able to notch this season, beating their previous low of 14, which they recorded in a win against No. 12 Long Beach State on Jan. 24. The three goals scored by the Bears were also easily the lowest on the season for a team that averaged 13.88 goals per game coming into the match against the Bruins.
The Bears typically rely on exceptional performances from their star sophomores Dora Antal, Anna Illes and Roser Tarrago to get the offense going, as they had accounted for 48 percent of the team’s goals coming into the game. They were scoring a combined average of 6.71 goals per game, but the Bruins held them to only one goal. Cal’s goals came from senior Michelle Caron, sophomore Stephanie Mutafyan and Antal, whose goal extended her team lead to 48 on the season, good for second in the MPSF.
Along with Cal’s offense, its vaunted defense also sputtered in this one: The Bears gave up nearly double their season average of 5.41 goals allowed per game. UCLA was able to notch goals from seven players and got off 13 shots on goal. Cal’s sophomore goalkeeper, Madeline Trabucco, was able to save only three of these shots, which is substantially fewer than her career average of 6.14 saves per game.
This game marked the seventh consecutive loss for the Bears to the Bruins. UCLA has really had the Bears’ number, outscoring them, 62-39, in these seven matchups.
After getting off to a terrific 14-1 start to the season, Cal has lost three games in a row, including this game, which was the first of their MPSF season. These games have come against the nation’s top-three teams — UCLA, Stanford and USC, respectively — a symptom of what has been a troubling trend for the Bears in recent years. Cal’s loss brings the team to 0-12 over the last two seasons against these teams. The Bears are undefeated against all other competition this year, with their only other loss also coming to UCLA, a 10-5 loss Jan. 31.
It will be important for the Bears to try to keep their heads up after a day on which everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong. They will need to utilize this as a valuable experience to learn how to beat their sport’s best teams, as the Bears try to go forward in their hunt for the championship.
Hooman Yazdanian covers women’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].