Cal men’s water polo finishes season in 3rd, optimistic for future

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Whoever placed the Cal men’s water polo team as third in the Collegiate Water Polo Association’s 2015 preseason poll should be awfully proud of themselves for their predictive abilities. Finishing third at the NCAA tournament, the Bears ended their season among the top in the nation, capping off one of their best seasons in recent years.

The third-place finish marks the first time Cal has made an appearance at the NCAA tournament since 2010, which was one of the team’s goals going into the season.

“We wanted to get there and we were able to accomplish that. I think it’s satisfying that we were able to get there. We earned it all the way through. We proved that this is a team that is able to compete at the highest level,” said Cal head coach Kirk Everist.

The final victory in the NCAA tournament third-place match also ends a season that saw a total of 24 victories, ultimately allowing the Bears to come out of the water with an overall record of 24-7 and a regular season Mountain Pacific Sports Federation record of 7-2.

The Bears, who at the peak of their season had a seven-game winning streak, lost their seven games to only three different opponents — USC, UCLA and Pacific — two of whom finished first and second in the nation, respectively, at the close of the season. Many of these losses were extremely close, often being pushed until the last few minutes or into overtime, showing the Bear’s fierce competitiveness.

By the numbers, the season was a rousing success. The Bears outscored their opponents by a total of 426 goals to 244, led by the two top scorers, attacker Johnny Hooper and center Odysseas Masmanidis, with 74 and 64 goals, respectively. Goalie Lazar Andric allowed 209 goals while saving 272, coming in with clutch saves in some of Cal’s tight games.

The third-place finish is made even better by the pile of awards and honors collected by many of the Bears. Luca Cupido, a sophomore attacker, was the only Bear named to the All-MPSF first team, with senior attacker Colin Mulcahy and freshmen Masmanidis and Hooper named to the second team. The award marks Cupido’s second year as an All-MPSF selection and Mulcahy’s fourth.

Hooper was also named the Newcomer of the Year thanks to the 74 goals that placed him as the second-highest scorer in the MPSF. Hooper’s win marks the second year in a row that a member of the Cal team has been honored with the award after Cupido won it in 2014.

This year’s team was led by a trio of seniors — Mulcahy, Andrew Shnugg, and Thomas Agramonte — who all contributed significant minutes and strong leadership both in and out of the pool. The importance of senior leadership cannot be overstated, but this year’s team was also aided by a group of promising freshmen and sophomores, showing that the Bears will continue to grow in skill and experience over the next few seasons.

“(This year’s team was) a really good group of guys. We’ve had a good group the last couple of years and this one in particular. We play a fun style of water polo — its dynamic. We have a lot of players that are very unselfish and able to play well together,” Everist said.

Throughout the season, Cal faced the most trouble when it came to 6-on-5 play — both offensively and defensively — but improved as the season progressed, eventually able to perfect its pressure cover defense and quick offensive ball movement.

Ultimately, the Bears had a successful and productive 2015 season, matching and surpassing the high expectations that were set for them by both themselves and others.

Sophie Goethals covers men’s water polo. Contact her at [email protected]