The Cal men’s water polo team was openly frustrated last weekend when it gave up a three-goal lead in the fourth quarter and allowed six goals in the final frame to lose 11-10 against No. 2 Pacific. With their fourth quarter collapse, the Bears (20-5, 6-2 MPSF), tied with Pacific at No. 2 nationally, relinquishing their grasp on the second seed for the upcoming Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament. This weekend, Cal will try to prevent further damage to its postseason seeding and secure the third seed in the conference tournament with a road win against cross-bay rival No. 5 Stanford.
The Cardinal (20-6, 5-3 MPSF) is led on either end of the pool by two members of Team USA — defensively by junior goalkeeper Drew Holland and offensively by senior driver Bret Bonanni. Holland averages 10.7 saves per game and 6.91 goals allowed per game, as opposed to 10.48 saves and 8.38 goals allowed per game for Cal’s junior goalkeeper Lazar Andric.
On the other side of the pool, Bonanni is an offensive machine — the only Stanford player ever to have multiple 90-goal seasons — and he just notched his third straight 80-goal season this past Tuesday in a win over Santa Clara. In addition, Bonanni passed Team USA captain Tony Azevedo for first on Stanford’s all-time goals list earlier this year. Bonanni has only been held scoreless once this season, and he is averaging an astounding 3.15 goals per game, as compared with Cal’s scoring leader freshman Johnny Hooper’s 2.52.
“Bret Bonanni’s going to try to be their main individual player, so we’re going to keep an eye on him, but nothing special. We have guys who can match up well, so play our game. First defense and then offense,” said Cal sophomore attacker Luca Cupido.
Cal will try to contain Bonanni, but that feat has been difficult for most teams, and Bonanni will likely cause the Bears trouble as well. After the defensive lapse against Pacific that allowed six goals in less than six minutes, the Bears will be need to solidify their defense by working together, or else Bonanni could be quick to capitalize on any minor individual mistakes.
Cupido, who led the Bears with four goals in the loss to Pacific, attributed the defeat to a lack of execution on defense as opposed to a poor game plan, noting that the Bears had a “blackout.”
“If we play our defense, we have good individual skills to score, so we’re not worried about the offense part. We have shown throughout the year that we can score goals against any team,” Cupido said.
Stanford enters this weekend’s matchup on a six-game winning streak that it will look to extend against its rivals before the beginning of postseason play. The upside of Stanford’s winning streak for the Bears is that none of the six teams were ranked in the top five. Additionally, the Cardinal dropped four games in a row before its current streak to the four teams ranked higher than it, including one loss in tournament play to Cal.
This rivalry weekend also pits No. 4 USC against No. 1 UCLA, and that match — along with the Bay area rivalry game — will determine the final MPSF standings and tournament seeds. Luckily for the Bears, they control their own destiny — a win secures third place and a promising route to the MPSF tournament semifinals.
Vikram Muller covers men’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].