This is it. This is what all the blood, sweat and tears that have gone into the Cal women’s water polo team’s season have led to. This is where everyone will finally find out if the Bears are ready to take on the nation’s toughest programs and emerge victorious. This is the battle to become NCAA champion.
On Friday, Cal will head to Avery Aquatic Center in Palo Alto, California, for the 2015 NCAA Championships, hosted by Stanford. The Bears (19-7) go into the tournament seeded fourth and will take on No. 5 UC Irvine (19-8) in the first round. Despite the similar rankings and records, Cal will be a big favorite in this matchup of California schools.
The Bears and Anteaters played twice this season, and both games were comfortable wins for Cal — UC Irvine was outscored, 19-9. On Friday, Cal will look to replicate the successful formula that guided it to victory earlier this season. This means a big dose of sophomore Dora Antal. The All-Mountain Pacific Sports Federation first teamer combined for six goals in the Bears’ two games against the Anteaters. As Cal’s leading goal scorer on the season, with 60 goals, Antal will surely make her presence felt throughout the tournament.
Cal’s opponents in the tournament will have to prepare to take on more than just Antal, as the Bears have some other great players, led by sophomore Roser Tarrago. Tarrago — who was also named to the MPSF First Team — is the Bears second leading goal scorer, with 51 goals, but what makes her especially dangerous is how well she has been playing lately. Tarrago has scored 18 goals in her last eight games. She has also been a terror on the defensive end, utilizing her speed to get into opponents’ passing lanes, and she was named MVP of the MPSF Tournament. Along with Tarrago’s great play, sophomore goalie Madeline Trabucco has experienced an uptick in quality in recent games. She notched 26 saves in the three-game MPSF Tournament, including some crucial saves to protect the Bears’ two wins there.
If Cal is able to get past the Anteaters, as expected, it will have to take on No. 1 UCLA (24-2) in the semifinals, assuming the Bruins can get past UC San Diego (18-18) in the first round. This game will be a much more daunting task for Cal, because in the team’s three matchups with UCLA this season, the Bears have gone 0-3 and been outscored, 29-16. The last game between the Bruins and Bears was a closer 9-8 loss for Cal in the finals of the MPSF Tournament.
Most pundits will expect this to be where the season ends for the Bears, but they recently showed that they are not a team to easily count out, even against opponents against whom they have previously struggled. Cal beat then-No. 1 Stanford in the MPSF Tournament semifinals, breaking a 41-match losing streak to the Cardinal that dated back to 2000. This was a win that surely provided a crucial confidence boost for the Bears, as it was their first against one of the nation’s top-three teams in the 2015 season.
Should the Bears take this confidence into a great game that gets them past UCLA, they will get a chance to take on either USC or Stanford in the championship game. A win there would result in Cal’s first NCAA championship in the sport. And better than that, it would mean a vaunted place in the annals of the sport’s history for this team.
It would mean immortality.
Hooman Yazdanian is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].