This was sophomore Emily Loughlin’s moment to shine. She held the ball with the score tied, 9-9, and with the game in its second sudden-death period. A goal here would give the Cal women’s water polo team a much-needed win, as it was on a three-game losing streak. Loughlin rose up and rifled the shot past the San Jose State goalie and into the left corner of the cage.
Just like that, the Bears put an end to their recent struggles, and Loughlin experienced one of the high points of her young Cal career. The 10-9 win was No. 4 Cal’s (15-4) first of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation season and kept the No. 9 Spartans (16-6) winless in conference. Both sides were evenly matched throughout the game, as indicated by the four extra time periods — including two overtimes in which the teams each scored one goal — needed to finally settle the match.
The Spartans got out to a quick 3-0 lead in the first four minutes of the game, but the Bears answered with five consecutive goals. Each team tacked on a couple more goals, and the game went into the fourth quarter, with Cal up 8-6. But San Jose State was not dead in the water yet: The Spartans were quickly able to tie the score, with 22 seconds left, with a goal by junior Rae Lekness.
The Bears and the Spartans traded a goal each in the overtime periods and had a scoreless sudden-death period before Loughlin’s goal finally ended the Bears’ first sudden-death game since an 8-7 win against Arizona State in last year’s MPSF Tournament.
Cal was able to pull out this one despite being off its game. After the early 3-0 deficit, Cal head coach Richard Corso pulled out his starting lineup and put in their back-ups to give the team a jolt before the game got out of hand. On top of the early struggles, Cal’s defense wasn’t at its best, as it allowed 17 shots on goal. The Bears’ usual aim with defense is to prevent the other team from getting legitimate opportunities for a goal, as such opportunities often force turnovers or bad shots. When this plan falls through, as it did during much of Saturday’s game, Cal has the luxury of having a goalkeeper as good as sophomore Madeline Trabucco. She had eight saves, including a big one on a penalty shot in the third quarter that was crucial in a game as tight as this one.
Trabucco’s goalkeeping salvaged a defensive effort that could have largely gotten out of hand for the Bears, especially against a team such as San Jose State, which is armed with a couple of stars in Lekness and sophomore Clara Espar Llaquet, who last season became the ninth player in MPSF history to score at least 90 goals in a single season. While Cal did give up six goals to this duo, it did enough to give its offense a chance to use its firepower to pull out a win.
The Bears were guided by their two leading goal scorers, sophomores Roser Tarrago and Dora Antal, who had three and two goals, respectively. Cal came into the game averaging 13.28 goals per game, and while it didn’t live up to this, the Bears’ offense still put 20 shots on goal and did enough to win a close game.
Despite the win, the Bears will need to take away some lessons from this game: They will need to tighten up the strength of their defense and should look to be more efficient in their shot-making than this game’s 10-for-20 effort. Still, ending their losing streak, even when not at their best, shows the talent and ability of this team and their championship potential.
Hooman Yazdanian covers women’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].