The Cal men’s water polo team has played in two tournaments, two weekend invites and a total of 18 games since beginning its season Sept. 5. The Bears have scored 263 goals and allowed 136. They have won 15 contests by an average margin of 9.1 goals and lost three by an average of only 3.3 goals per game. Two freshmen — Johnny Hooper and Odysseas Masmanidis — have emerged to score 42 and 39 goals, respectively, to lead the team.
Seven weeks later, the Bears still have not played at home.
But that changes this weekend, as the No. 3 Bears host No. 7 UC Irvine (11-4, 1-0 MPSF) on Sunday at Spieker Aquatics Complex.
The Anteaters come to UC Berkeley having lost two of four games last weekend at the Kap7 SoCal Invitational, including one to No. 1 UCLA and another to No. 5 Pacific, whom Cal beat in double overtime in the second round of the tournament. Irvine is led by two juniors — utility player Kyle Trush and driver Lovre Milos — who lead the goal tally with 29 and 27, respectively.
“(Milos is) a very experienced international player with a lot of offensive ability, so we’re going to have to keep an eye on him,” said Cal head coach Kirk Everist. “They’ve got a nice balanced team and they’re a hard, physical-playing team and always have been. And so they’ll come out and come after us.”
Cal (15-3, 1-0 MPSF) enters this weekend’s matchup after going 3-1 in tournament play last weekend, where the Bears found themselves in a familiar situation: a semifinal matchup against UCLA. Looking to step up against the defending NCAA champions after being defeated 8-6 earlier this season, the Bears sought to take an early lead. But they missed two excellent opportunities near the cage and allowed a few easy Bruin goals to start the game.
“Teams are going to get on runs, and if you don’t take advantage of the opportunity that you have to make a run, then it becomes hard to beat a team like (UCLA),” Everist said. “When we didn’t take advantage in that first quarter, it didn’t give us an opportunity to withstand the inevitable run that UCLA was going to make.”
Instead of finishing the first frame up 3-1, Cal found itself down to the Bruins 2-1, just as it had been a few weeks prior. And, just as they had done before, the Bruins executed their gameplan steadily throughout the second quarter — this time taking a 7-3 halftime lead en route to a 13-8 triumph.
Despite the loss, the Bears still finished the weekend on a relatively high note, knocking off rival No. 4 Stanford in the third-place match and securing the bronze with a 14-11 wire-to-wire victory. Cal will look to take some of the positive energy from that effort as it plays its first home game since Nov. 8, 2014.
Vikram Muller covers men’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected]