After falling to No. 1 Stanford at the Stanford Invitational this past weekend, the No. 4 Cal women’s water polo team (8-1) looks to bounce back in its first Mountain Pacific Sports Federation game of the season. While the match against Stanford was the toughest test the Bears have faced so far, they will begin MPSF play against a more reasonable opponent.
This Saturday, Cal will travel to Southern California to take on No. 24 CSU Bakersfield (2-4). The Bears have never lost to the Roadrunners, holding an 11-0 all time record.
While Cal faces an arduous climb to the top of the MPSF, it does feature some of the top players in the nation to make that climb a little easier.
Cal’s roster shows off a whopping six All-Americans and three Olympians. Junior Dora Antal, a two-time First Team All-American and Olympian for her native Hungary, looks to build off of her strong performance at the Stanford Invitational, where she scored 11 goals in four games. Currently averaging 2.89 goals per game, Antal is one of the top offensive forces in the NCAA.
Complementing Antal’s strong offensive showing is junior Anna Illes, also a member of the Hungarian National Team. Her relentlessness and tenacity make her one of the best defensive players in the MPSF. In addition, Illes also scored multiple goals in all four games of the Stanford Invitational, which showcased her budding offensive skills. Her prowess on both sides of the pool will be much-needed when the Bears begin MPSF play.
Heading into the game, Cal holds significant advantages over CSU Bakersfield on both sides of the ball. The Bears are averaging 13.1 goals per game, whereas CSU Bakersfield averages almost half that amount. On defense, the trio of Madeline Trabucco, Madison Tagg and Lolo Silver have allowed six goals per game to the 10.3 per game scored against the Roadrunner goalies.
Another component that will play to Cal’s advantage is the poor play of CSU Bakersfield in the fourth quarter. Though they have only played six games so far, the Roadrunners have been outscored 20-3 in the final period. Their goal differential, however, in the first three quarters is only minus-6, which suggests an inability to perform well in tight, competitive matches.
In addition, the Roadrunners will be tasked with stopping Cal’s balanced offensive attack. With Antal (26) and Illes (16) leading the way, Cal has five players tallying double-digit goals so far this season. In eight of its nine games, the Bears have had at least seven different players scoring one goal, with the outlier being the 10-7 loss against Stanford last week. If CSU Bakersfield does not step up on defense this weekend, the game could go in Cal’s favor very quickly.
Playing in the MPSF with perennial powerhouses such as Stanford, USC and UCLA is no walk in the park. Those three teams have combined to appear in the NCAA championships 30 of the possible 32 times in the tournament’s 16 years of existence. While Cal will be tested greatly this season, the team hopes to begin its season strong with a victory over CSU Bakersfield.
Leo Liu covers women’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].