No.6 Cal women’s water polo set to compete in Davis Challenge

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For the second time in three weekends, the Cal women’s water polo team will head to UC Davis to play two matches in a one-day span in which the Bears will compete at the Davis Challenge. Last weekend at the UC Irvine Invitational, they were humbled by two opponents they expected to defeat in then-No. 6 Hawaii and Michigan, then tied for No. 7. Still riding the high of defeating former No. 1 Stanford, Cal clearly underestimated the strength of the Rainbow Wahine and the Wolverines, and it was given a rude awakening in 7-6 and 7-5 losses, respectively. The Bears found themselves finishing the tournament with two losses on record and with a lowly seventh place win against Davis, despite entering the tournament as the third seed. This weekend, Cal (15-3), tied for No. 6, will open the weekend playing the No. 8 Aggies in a second consecutive matchup and then will finish against Santa Clara.

UC Davis enters the weekend at 11-8, with seven wins against ranked opponents. The two teams are meeting for the third time this season, and Cal has won both meetings by a three goal margin, 6-3 at Stanford four weeks ago, and then 9-6 last weekend in Irvine. Davis is led offensively by senior center Allyson Hansen ─ 32 goals on the season to lead the team ─ and by junior utility player Bryn Lutz, whose 27 goals and 11 assists place her second on the Aggies’ points list behind Hansen.

The Bears have established themselves as one of the premier defensive teams in the nation, ranking second in the MPSF with 5.06 goals allowed per game, and junior goalkeeper Madeline Trabucco leads the MPSF with 4.36 goals allowed per contest. Although Cal has triumphed against Davis twice this season already, Cal head coach Richard Corso is preparing his team ─ as he has all season ─ for this weekend’s match to be played with the intensity of a championship match.

“We’re going to work on defense all week long — we’re doing a lot of passing under pressure, we’re doing shooting under pressure, and that’s it. I’m not going to change anything, any long-range plan, any short-range plan,” Corso said. “So what we keep hammering to the girls is this: ‘If your shot doesn’t drop, it may not be our day offensively, but there’s never an excuse not to play good defense.’ ”

Santa Clara enters this weekend unranked and with only four wins on the season. In its four wins, it has put up double digit goals, but has not managed to put more than six goals on the scoreboard in its seven losses. It appears as though the Bears will make quick work of the Broncos.

Corso, however, was emphatic about not allowing his team to underestimate anyone after the underwhelming performance in Irvine. He felt that most of his team, including himself, was looking ahead to the later rounds in contests against higher-ranked teams when they fell to Hawaii.

“I think from the perspective of us losing to Hawaii, I not only look at it for the next morning (semifinals), but I looked at it for the championship. I firmly believe that we would have been in the championship if we had beaten Hawaii, and we would have given whoever it might’ve been ─ SC or Stanford ─ a great game,” Corso said. “Sometimes when I first got to Berkeley, the girls never thought they could beat the three teams that are in front of us, and now that’s all they think about, playing against those teams. So now, the Michigans, the Hawaiis, the ASUs, the Irvines, sometimes they take a little too lightly.”

If the Bears learned anything from last weekend, they will stay focused throughout these supposedly easier games and finish the final tournament before the beginning of conference play on a high note.

Vikram Muller covers women’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].