It was a busy weekend for Division I men’s water polo.
On Friday, 16 teams competed for a chance to be the champion of the Mountain Pacific Invitational, hosted in Berkeley by No. 3 Cal men’s water polo (11-1).
In this first round, the Bears competed against Whittier, handily defeating them 22-3. Just over one minute into the first period, a goal by senior defender Farrel South established a lead that Cal would not come close to surrendering.
The next three, scored by sophomore attacker Johnny Hooper, senior defender Thomas Carroll and junior attacker Luca Cupido, came in quick succession and further solidified the Bears’ offensive dominance. In total, Cal saw goals by 15 different players against the Poets.
When the quarterfinals began on Saturday morning, eight squads — the Bears included — still vied for the opportunity to leave the weekend with an undefeated Mountain Pacific Invitational record. Cal was once again victorious, beating UC Santa Barbara by a respectable 15-8.
Despite Cal scoring the first goal, for the first three periods the game remained very close as the two teams traded leads. At the start of the fourth period, however, Cal surged ahead, scoring six unanswered goals and securing a berth in the semifinals.
Later that afternoon, with only four teams still in contention for the first place spot, Cal faced one of its biggest rivals and fellow MPSF team, No. 2 USC. The Trojans and Bears have not played each other since last December’s NCAA tournament, when USC ended Cal’s chance at the championship game, winning 9-6. Therefore, the Bears had a lot to prove in the matchup.
Cal’s subsequent 10-8 win against the Trojans proved that this weekend would not be a repeat of last year’s NCAA championship semifinal. Both teams traded goals in the first six minutes, appearing to forecast a tighter final score. By the end of the first period, however, the Bears established an unshakable lead. Yet, Cal’s defense was able to keep USC to only one point for the next two periods, while the offensive secured five more goals for an 8-3 lead thanks to one goal by sophomore attacker Johnny Hooper, one by junior attacker Connor Neumann, one by senior defender Thomas Carroll and two by sophomore utility Odysseas Masmanidis.
At the start of the fourth period, however, the Trojans began to challenge the Bears. Over the first six and a half minutes of the period, USC made four goals to Cal’s one.
Despite the Trojan’s offensive drive and a new score of 9-7 with 1:38 remaining, the Bears had no intentions of leaving the game defeated. With only 32 seconds left to play, Cal senior goalie Lazar Andric shot across the length of the pool, making the Bears’ tenth and final goal and solidifying their supremacy. USC managed to score once more, but could not overcome the differential, and the final score was 10-8 Cal.
Even though Andric’s shot was of utmost importance, his even greater contribution occurred in the goal, where he established himself as an obstacle for USC’s offense totaling 10 saves including multiple against power-play attempts.
On Sunday afternoon, Cal’s 3-0 tournament record earned it a spot in the championship match against No. 1 UCLA. Despite answering both of the Bruins’ first two goals, Cal was never able to take the lead. Leading scorer Johnny Hooper was also ejected for from the game for misconduct with 2:22 left in the first, necessitating an offensive adjustment that took some time to appear.
Down by one at the at the beginning of the second, the Bears were unable to put another point on the board while UCLA scored three more times. In the third period, there appeared to be a shift as Cal returned the Bruins’ two early goals with three of their own. In the last eight minutes, despite two more goals, the Bears were unable to overcome the Bruins, who made a point themselves, and fell 10-7.
Though Cal’s loss in the championship round ended its undefeated record, the coach and team still expect to move up in the rankings.
Sarah Goldzweig covers men’s water polo. Contact her at [email protected]