No. 4 Cal women’s water polo faces tough competition at Barbara Kalbus Invitational

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After taking both matches at the California Speedo Cup II last Saturday, the Cal women’s water polo team (10-1) heads to Irvine, California, this weekend to compete in its biggest tournament thus far this season. The star-studded Barbara Kalbus Invitational features 16 teams, all of which are ranked in the Collegiate Water Polo Association Top-25.

The 16 teams in the tournament are divided into four groups led by No .1 Stanford, No. 2 USC, No. 3 UCLA and No. 4 Cal. The host, No. 6 UC Irvine, is in group C with UCLA. Two other MPSF teams, No. 5 Arizona State and No. 17 San Jose State, along with No. 15 Long Beach State are in group D with the Bears

This year’s UC Irvine Invitational was renamed after water polo legend Dr. Barbara Kalbus. Kalbus served as the president of USA Water Polo from 1980 to 1984, and she held the desk manager position for UC Irvine water polo teams for more than 30 years. She was inducted into the USA Water Polo Hall of Fame in 1993.

Cal begins group play Friday afternoon against San Jose State (4-8), which the Bears have defeated twice already this season.

“We’ve competed with them well in the past,” said freshman Mia Salvini. “It’s nice to have watched film on them and get two rounds (with them) under our belt. Our team is pretty confident, but they are strong competitors and they’re fast, so we can’t underestimate them.”

If San Jose State wishes to keep pace with the Bears, it will have to contain the well-oiled machine that is the Cal offense. Katelynn Thompson, the Spartans’ first-string goalie, has allowed nearly 11 goals per game this season. Meanwhile, Cal is averaging 13.5 goals per game and has six players tallying double-digit goals. The Spartans will have to roll out a special defensive scheme if they wish to stop the Bears.

Following its match against San Jose State, Cal will play either Arizona State or Long Beach State on Saturday morning. If the Bears wins both games, they will face the winner of group A, setting up a potential showdown against Stanford in the semifinals.

Regardless of the results, each team will play four games in the tournament. This will give the coaches opportunities to tinker with their lineups and experiment with different strategies. For the Bears, the Barbara Kalbus Invitational gives them a chance to play other MPSF schools and tune up for conference play in March and April.

“We’re ready to get some quality games,” said head coach Coralie Simmons. “Preparation up until now has been team-based. Now we get to focus on our competitors and how we’re going to come out against each team in different ways. We look forward to some conference play.”

All teams are expected to go in playing their best water polo, and the quality of the teams at the tournament is so high that playing well almost guarantees a big leap forward in the rankings. No matter what team you are rooting for, the Barbara Kalbus Invitational promises to be an exciting tournament.

Leo Liu covers women’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].