Heading into the 2015 season, all signs seem to indicate that the world of college men’s water polo should brace itself to be hit by an Italian storm named Luca Cupido.
Cupido, who will be a sophomore next season, is on track to have a breakout season and become a superstar for the Bears.
Projecting that Cupido will end up a star is not exactly a wild proposition. He was already named Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, or MPSF, Newcomer of the Year. He also flashed his impressive skill and ability in a few key games throughout the year, including a big three-goal game against Stanford on Oct. 12. On Nov. 1, he set a career-high five goals in a game against UC Santa Barbara. Cupido still has the skill set and the potential to get even better and more consistent with experience — his youth indicates that he is ready for a big jump in production.
Such a jump should be a terrifying proposition for Cal’s opponents, as Cupido was no slouch in the 2014 season. Cupido was one of two Bears, along with senior Aleksa Saponjic, to be named second-team all-MPSF.
As only a freshman, Cupido managed to place third on his team in goals with 42 in 24 games. This translates to an average of 1.75 goals per game, good for 14th in the MPSF. But his talents do not begin and end with shot-making. In fact, Cupido’s 35 steals put him in a tie for first on the team. His 31 assists are good for second on the team.
All of these talents make Cupido a prime candidate to limit the extent to which the team feels the absence of Saponjic. Cupido and soon-to-be senior Colin Mulcahy will be the ones primarily tasked with this tall task. It will be up to them to replace the exceptional 67 goals and 50 assists Saponjic brought to the pool. Filling this role would effectively make Cupido the team’s main star — the player who, when the shot clock is winding down, is thrown the ball and forced to make something happen. The player who, when the other team is making a run, is the one who needs to get his team back on track by making a big defensive or offensive play. The player who, at the end of big games, is the one fans will shower either with acclaim or blame.
To take advantage of his expanded and crucial role, Cupido will need to get even better. The game should come to more him easily with another year to fit into and master head coach Kirk Everist’s system. The second year in a system often proves to be a big one for athletes. It is the time when they can most focus on perfecting their skills to thrive in a system, rather than simply learning the basics as they must do in their first year. And this is a system in which Cupido can truly thrive.
Everist has turned the Bears into a high-octane goal-scoring machine. The ideal Cal game is one in which the team can force turnovers and play at an extremely fast pace, firing as many shots as possible on the other team’s goalie. Cupido is the exact sort of player who excels in this system because of his athleticism and shooting ability.
Along with mastering the Bears’ system, Cupido is also participating as a member of Team USA in the FINA Men’s Intercontinental Tournament. He has risen to the occasion in international competition and was named MVP of the tournament.
This experience pitted him against some of the world’s best players — an experience that can only prove valuable in his growth as a player.
With this growth added to his already well-rounded game, Cupido may turn into the sort of force that can push Cal to the forefront of the national conversation.
Hooman Yazdanian is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].