No. 4 Cal men’s water polo faces No. 6 UCSB

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There are few feelings more satisfying in sports than getting revenge on an opponent for a previous loss. One of those satisfying feelings is avenging not just one, but two previous losses — especially if they came at the hands of the same opponent.

The No. 6 UCSB men’s water polo team enters the weekend at 9-2, with both of its losses coming from matches against Cal. Whether you call it revenge, redemption or simply earning some more respect, the Gauchos are eager for a win against the No. 4 Bears, having dropped the previous two matchups on Sept. 6 and 19, at the Triton Invitational and NorCal Invitational, respectively. This familiarity could be an advantage to the Gauchos, as they have more to prove than the Bears, after two 12-5 losses.

“I think it’s always hard to play somebody three times in roughly four weeks, so both teams will know each other pretty well,” said Cal head coach Kirk Everist. “I would anticipate seeing a better Santa Barbara team than we saw in Palo Alto and in San Diego, and I think they’ll see a better Cal team than they saw in both of those games too. But there’s going to be some familiarity there and Santa Barbara is a tough place to play — always is — and we’ll have to show up ready to play”

Cal (11-2) will certainly face a stronger opponent with the Gauchos than they did last weekend at the Aggie Roundup, where they crushed four teams by an average margin of 12.75 goals. The Bears will be looking to build on their dominating performances from last week, and will also be looking for greater involvement from rising sophomore star Luca Cupido as they begin Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play.

After increasing Cupido’s minutes at the NorCal Invitational, Everist wasn’t exactly surprised to not see his goals per game average increase, as a result of strong defense.

“He’s had some good offensive opportunities. He draws a lot of attention for us so even when he is not scoring goals, other players are scoring goals because he is drawing attention,” Everist said.

But Everist had to acknowledge the strength that comes with Cupido’s goal-scoring prowess. He stood out on the score sheet for the first time last weekend, putting away eight goals in four matches, including a fourth-quarter hat trick against Fresno Pacific.

“He’s going to have to find other ways to get involved ─ and he knows that,” Everist said. “We are working on different things to get him into our offense more prominently, but he does provide us with offensive output even when he’s not scoring the ball.”

Obviously, the quality of opponents could have been a significant reason why Cupido was able to find the net so many times after a relatively quiet start to the season in front of goal. Despite the level of Cal’s competition, there are many positives to take away from last weekend’s performances. Everist was able to expand his lineup, work on movement in the pool and test new offensive strategies like repeatedly feeding the ball inside — Odysseas Masmanidis and Pedro Stellet stacked the score sheet from center at the Aggie Roundup.

1Overall, the Bears can be expected to put up big numbers — they have averaged 15.46 goals per game compared to the Gauchos’ 8.91. With a rise in Cupido’s recent form, Cal will look to open MPSF play with a bang. UCSB is likely to pose a more difficult challenge, looking to retaliate in this third matchup, but it’s nothing the Bears shouldn’t be able to handle, as they have shown convincingly two times this season.

Vikram Muller covers men’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected]