Season snapshots: Cal women’s water polo takes down Stanford after 15 years

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Editor’s Note: This piece is the first of a series looking back at the most important point of some teams’ 2014-15 season.

For followers of the Cal women’s water polo team, it had become easy to look at Stanford on the schedule and immediately mark that game down as a loss. For much of the Bears’ 2015 season, it looked like that would again be the way to go, as the team’s losing streak to the Cardinal stretched to 41 games.

That all changed April 25, when the Bears took on the then-No. 1 Cardinal in the semifinals of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, or MPSF, tournament. Cal advanced to the championship game of the tournament after beating Stanford, 8-7. The win ended a losing streak that spanned all the way back to the end of Bill Clinton’s presidency in 2000.

It was evident from the beginning of the game that Cal was not going to be willing to walk away from the game with yet another loss. The Bears, who were in the midst of a strong season that ultimately saw them finish fourth in the nation, came out like a buzzsaw. They scored four goals in the first to get out to a 4-1 lead in the first quarter, which they would never look back from.

As the seconds ticked away, it began to seem like heartbreak may be imminent for the team. Stanford had pulled to within one goal of Cal, and it was firing away at the goal, trying to sneak one past sophomore goalkeeper Madeline Trabucco to tie the game and continue the Bears’ misery. Trabucco and the Cal defense were having none of that, however, and they turned the Cardinal away until that last buzzer sounded, signaling a Bears win.

For Cal, holding onto the lead meant so much. It became clear from the postgame celebrations — assistant coach Matt Flesher jumped into the pool in jubilation — that the win meant more than anything short of a national championship could mean for the Bears. This was more than a simple win that took the team to the championship game of its conference tournament. In fact, it was such an important win that it’s likely that no one from the program even remembers they lost the next day.

“I’m really proud of our team — the way we played consistent, high-level water polo for four periods,” said Cal head coach Richard Corso to Cal Athletics after the match. “It’s a great win, not only for this team but for all the girls that have played at Berkeley over the years.”

That’s the key point for the Bears. Throughout the recent parts of the losing streak, every time Cal took the pool to face Stanford, the Bears were doing so with a heavy burden on their back. The team was not playing only for the players on its current iteration — rather, they were also playing for the scores upon scores of women’s water polo players who have come to and left Cal without ever defeating the Cardinal.

Because of this game, the Bears will be able to go into the next season without that burden for the first time in a long time.

Hooman Yazdanian is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].