The Cal women’s water polo team should enter its game Saturday against No. 9 San Jose State Spartans with confidence, as history will be on its side.
The No. 4 Bears (14-4) are 43-1 all-time against the Spartans, including their current 17-game win streak. The only time San Jose State has ever defeated Cal was a 14-13 overtime nail-biter in 2007. On Saturday, the Bears will hope this winning trend continues in San Jose as they look to end their three-game losing streak. These losses have all been against the nation’s top three teams — No. 1 UCLA, No. 2 Stanford and No. 3 USC. The Spartans enter on a four-game win streak.
Cal’s recent struggles are unlikely to be indicative of what actually happens in this one, as the Bears still appear to be the superior team. Cal comes into the game outscoring its opponents by 7.6 goals per game, while San Jose State (16-5) has only managed a positive margin of 4.7 goals per game. The majority of Cal’s advantages look to be on defense, where it gives up a small 5.67 goals per game compared to San Jose State’s 7.33.
The Bears’ ideal defensive style is a press defense, where they look to force the other team into mistakes. This more aggressive defensive tactic leaves them open to mistakes, but they are able to pull it off because of the presence of sophomore goalkeeper Madeline Trabucco, who is adept at cleaning up their mistakes. Trabucco is already in sixth place all-time on Cal’s saves list, and her career average of 6.07 saves per game ranks fifth.
The Spartans will look to counteract the Bears’ strong defense with a high-powered offense of their own, led by the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation’s leading scorer, sophomore Clara Espar Llaquet, who already has 66 goals on the season. She put on a dominant scoring display last weekend at the Harvard Invitational, with 24 goals in four games, including nine goals against Iona, who had no answer for her. Junior Rae Lekness is fourth in the conference in scoring with 47 goals, and the combination of her and Llaquet makes the Spartans a tough offense to stop. The offense is prolific enough that it figures to make a few dents in Cal’s defense in the game.
To counteract San Jose State’s offense, the Bears will need to take advantage of their big advantage on the Spartans on the other side of the ball. Cal’s explosive offense is led by sophomores Dora Antal, Anna Illes and Roser Tarrago, their leading scorers this season. Antal, especially, has been hard to stop for defenders this season, as her 48 goals are third in the MPSF. Along with their stars, the Bears’ terrific depth on offense makes it especially hard for defenses to handle them. Sixteen different players have scored multiple goals for Cal this season, and seven have scored double digit goals. The Bears’ depth makes it hard for defenses to try to key in on the stars because if too much attention is focused on any one player, another can step up and put on a scoring display. This is the main reason why eight different Cal players have had at least one game with three goals. With so many players capable of having an excellent game, the Spartans’ defense will have its hands full.
For Cal to remain confident in its hunt for the championship, it is important that they win this game and extend their historical dominance over the Spartans.
Hooman Yazdanian covers women’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].