This weekend’s SoCal Tournament presents the No. 4 Cal men’s water polo team with a perfect opportunity to improve their national ranking. Fellow top-tier teams, No. 1 UCLA, No. 2 USC and No. 3 Stanford, will be among the Bears’ competition as they head south to visit co-hosts Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount.
In its first match of the event on Saturday, Cal will encounter Loyola Marymount in its home pool. The Lions (3-8) are 2-2 at home, indicating that perhaps homefield advantage will not be a huge factor in the match. Having only played one other top-four team, UCLA, to whom they lost 13-6, the Lions may lack the skill to compete with a Cal team that is coming off five straight wins — two of which were against top 16 teams.
In order to obtain the win, the Bears’ defense must be weary of leading scorers Milutin Mitrovic and Vuk Cvetkovic, who have been able to carry the Lions to this season’s three victories. Cal must also capitalize on its six on five opportunities, an offensive gift that it was unable to adequately exploit against UCSB last weekend.
“I felt like our guys were thinking too much. … It seemed like they were all thinking, ‘A, B, C, D.’ They weren’t reacting,” said Cal head coach Kirk Everist following their match against UCSB.
If the Bears beat LMU as expected, they will face the winner of No. 5 Pacific vs. tied for No. 16 Santa Clara. Cal should be confident going into a game against Santa Clara, a team they already beat 15-4 at the Aggie Round Up Tournament this season. Pacific, however, could cause some trouble for the Bears. The Tigers are ranked one seed below Cal and are cruising on an 11 game winning streak, beating rivals like UCSB, UC Davis and UCSD.
The Bears and the Tigers met earlier this season as each other’s opening opponents. The game was won by Cal, 13-11, but the victory was not easily earned as the Bears committed 14 turnovers and accrued nine exclusions. The Tigers are led by junior Ben Stevenson who converts on more than 50 percent of his shots. If Cal hopes to gain another win against Pacific, they must call upon their goalies, Lazar Andric and Peter O’Laughlin, to continue to keep their opponent’s scoring at bay.
If Cal makes it past its second match, it will most likely meet UCLA, a team to whom it lost, 8-6, in a close match earlier this season. The Bruins are on an amazing 13-0 run with goal contributions coming from multiple players every game. If the Bears make it to the semifinals, they will face a formidable foe in UCLA.
As the Bears head to another major tournament they look to find redemption for their tough losses at the Kap7 NorCal Tournament against rivals UCLA, USC and Stanford. This trip down south will provide them with the perfect opportunity to prove their worth.
Sophie Goethals covers men’s water polo. Contact her at [email protected]