With just three games left before the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation playoffs, it is imperative that the Cal men’s water polo team come out of this upcoming weekend’s set of matches with two wins. Facing Pacific and Pepperdine on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, the Bears will be looking to solidify their reputation at their home pool at Spieker Aquatics Complex.
Cal’s first matchup against the Tigers comes with some added pressure as the two teams are tied for second behind UCLA in the national rankings. In their last meeting, the Bears were able to squeeze out an 11-10 win, but since then, the Tigers have shown that they are a fierce contender in the MPSF.
With only one loss — against UCLA — since its fall to Cal, Pacific has climbed the rankings with wins against Stanford, USC and UCSB. The Tigers are led by junior attacker Ben Stevenson who has accumulated 52 goals for his team this season, four of which came against Cal in their previous encounter.
Cal tallied 14 penalties in this last matchup, but was able to shut out Pacific on all of its power plays. If the Bears hope to be successful again, they must limit their personal fouls and their defense must continue to thwart its opponents’ 6-on-5 advantages, while their offense must capitalize on its own.
“They do a lot of movement and they pack it in on defense. They try to limit your 6-on-5s and move a lot to create 6-on-5s for themselves,” said Cal’s head coach Kirk Everist.
Pacific goalie Brady Moore has been a brick wall in front of the net with a save percentage of .640 while playing 89 percent of his team’s minutes. The Bears’ freshman offensive dynamic duo of Odysseas Masmanidis and Johnny Hooper must once again make multiple-goal contributions to the team’s effort in order to beat Moore and the Tigers.
On the other side of the ball, the Tigers’ offense is indomitable, touting five of the nation’s top 20 scorers in Stevenson, Alex Obert, Aleksandar Petrovic, Krisztian Laczkovics and Devon Thumwood. The Bears’ defense must continue to stack the middle and maintain its scheme in order to shut down Pacific’s tenacious quintet.
“We can’t let them dictate the tempo. … We’ll be ready to play. It’s a big game for seeding and another really quality opponent for us to play,” Everist said.
After Saturday’s game, Cal will face No. 9 Pepperdine in its second contest of the weekend. The Waves are 11-10 overall and 1-4 in conference play, accumulating losses to Pacific, Long Beach State and USC — all teams that the Bears have earned wins against.
The Bears have not yet played Pepperdine this season, putting them at a disadvantage relative to facing opponents they are familiar with. But this goes both ways, as the Waves also have little previous knowledge of the Bears. A lack of past encounters this season should allow both teams to play their respective styles and adjust as the game goes on.
Pepperdine’s strength comes in its ability to tally goals from a wide range of players. Led by senior attacker Wesley Sherburne and freshman attacker Marko Asic with 33 goals each, the Waves have also received double-digit scoring contributions from six other players.
Despite its versatile scoring unit, Pepperdine has had trouble closing out games, allowing comebacks from teams like UCSB, UC Irvine and Long Beach State to result in close losses. If the Bears can come out with a strong start and maintain a lead, they should have no trouble beating the Waves.
“We’ve got to be able to shoot well and we’ve got to push the transition. We’re a confident group and we believe that we can come out and take them,” Everist said.
Sophie Goethals covers men’s water polo. Contact her at [email protected]