In this weekend’s Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Championship Tournament, the Cal women’s water polo team will have to travel to Tempe, Arizona, knowing it is an underdog.
The No. 4 Bears (17-6, 3-3 MPSF) will have to take on some of the nation’s top teams if they hope to win, as winning the tournament would require beating No. 1 Stanford and either No. 2 UCLA or No. 3 USC in the final two rounds of the tournament. This is not to say that Cal is even guaranteed to make the second round — where it would take on Stanford — as the Bears will need to get past tournament host, No. 7 Arizona State (16-8, 2-4 MPSF), to get there.
Despite the proximity of the teams’ rankings and the fact that it is a home game for the Sun Devils, the Bears are expected to walk away with a win here. Arizona State has managed to outscore its opponents by an average of 2.95 goals per game this season, but Cal has done even better, outscoring its opponents by 6.09 goals per game.
The last time these teams met, the game was defined by a superstar performance from Cal sophomore Roser Tarrago, who had four goals and dominated the game, and the Bears really managed to outplay the Sun Devils in a 7-5 win that wasn’t as close as the final score indicates.
Given this apparent talent disparity between the two teams, Cal will be expected to win, assuming the team doesn’t underestimate the Sun Devils by looking to the daunting opponents that lie ahead. The Bears have avoided the mistake of ignoring their weaker opponents, with a 17-0 record against teams ranked lower than them.
Should Cal get past the Sun Devils, the team will need to take on an absolute juggernaut in the Cardinal (21-1, 6-0 MPSF), the reigning national champions who is coming into the game on a 10-game winning streak. If this is not a daunting enough proposition on its own for the Bears, they will also need to overcome some history, as they go into the game with a 41-game losing streak against Stanford. This losing streak was extended just last week, with a 7-3 loss for Cal at home in the Big Splash.
This is likely where the conference championship run will end for Cal, who would then conclude the tournament in the third-place game against another formidable opponent, with either USC (21-3, 4-2 MPSF) or UCLA (21-2, 5-1 MPSF). The Bears have been unable to defeat any of the nation’s top three teams in either of the previous two seasons, going 0-15 against them.
Because Cal is going into the MPSF tournament as an underdog, this weekend could serve as a chance for the Bears to try new schemes against the teams that they will certainly need to figure out if they hope to win a national championship. If the Bears see any trends in this weekend’s matches that they can exploit later on, the tournament will be a good step for Cal in its larger goal — winning a national championship.
Hooman Yazdanian covers women’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].