As the Cal men’s water polo team goes up against UCLA this weekend, they’re hoping the well-known idiom, “the third time’s the charm,” can hold true. Traveling to Los Angeles, the Bears will be looking for their first win against the Bruins this season in the rivals’ third meeting this year.
With a 19-0 record this season, No. 1 UCLA has cruised to two huge tournament wins at both the Kap7 NorCal and SoCal tournaments, making the wins against fellow top-ranked teams USC and Stanford look easy. The Bruins are led by scoring duo Spencer Farrar and Ryder Roberts, who have combined to score nearly a quarter of their team’s 281 total goals.
In two previous matchups against UCLA, the No. 3 Bears have had trouble finding the back of the net, scoring only six goals in their first game and eight in their second.
“I wasn’t happy with either what UCLA was giving us or what we were forcing them into,” said Cal head coach Kirk Everist after their last meeting. In order to remedy this, Cal must get its offense up and running by taking advantage of freshman Odysseas Masmanidis and senior Colin Mulcahy in order to beat a solid UCLA team.
The Bruins’ ability to get rolling offensively has also proven to be a difficult task for the Bears’ defense to manage. Cal cannot rely only upon strong goalkeeping to stay in the game, and must call upon its defense to disrupt UCLA’s offensive cohesion and rhythm.
Beyond that, Cal will have to stay strong both physically and mentally against a fundamentally sound and mechanical UCLA team. Freshman Johnny Hooper will have to play another strong game both offensively and defensively as well as use his keen understanding of the game to help his team maintain possession and capitalize on easy opportunities to score.
“(Hooper’s) a smart player — he takes calculated risks,” Everist said.
In their second game of the weekend, the Bears will travel to Long Beach State in their first matchup against the 49ers. Long Beach State has accumulated a losing record so far this season, 7-10, with key losses against high-caliber teams such as Stanford, USC and UCSB.
The 49ers’ biggest asset has been their deep and flexible offense, which will force Cal’s defense to up its game and maintain a tight hold on the center. Long Beach State’s main weakness comes from a lack of viable goalkeepers. Having played one goalkeeper, Pavo Ljepopio, in the majority of games, Long Beach State lacks depth if Ljepopio gets tired, which could allow the Bears’ offense to take advantage.
Like Cal, the 49ers are a young team largely comprising freshmen and sophomores. Their lack of collegiate experience has proven to be an issue for them when it comes to maintaining intensity and perseverance through mistakes and scoring deficits. In this respect, the Bears will have an advantage. Although it is also a team that relies on freshmen to step up, Cal has proven its ability to rise to the occasion and up its level of play when necessary.
Coming off a big win against UC Irvine, the Bears should have a huge amount of confidence as they head down south for their pair of games. Keeping a level head, though, will be their most important asset. Their two previous losses against UCLA must be banished from their brains if they hope to come out on top against the Bruins. If they continue to play tough offense and defense, there is no reason why the Bears should not come out of this weekend with two wins under their belt.
Sophie Goethals covers men’s water polo. Contact her at [email protected]