On Sunday, movie stars convened for the 89th Academy Awards in Los Angeles to honor their best works of 2016. In nearby Irvine, however, water polo stars fought hard all weekend to put themselves in a good position to celebrate come May after winning the NCAA Tournament.
The No. 4 Cal women’s water polo team (12-3) did not present its best work at the Barbara Kalbus Invitational, going 2-2 in the tournament and finishing fourth overall.
Junior Dora Antal, Cal’s best offensive player, returned to the pool this weekend after sitting out the California Speedo Cup II for rest, and she showed no signs of rust. Antal scored eight goals in four games and climbed into fifth place on Cal’s all-time scoring list with 179 career goals.
Cal began the tournament with a commanding 13-6 victory over No. 17 San Jose State in a rare Friday afternoon match. Late in the first quarter, Carla Toha Vilanova netted her only goal of the match to put the Spartans up 2-1, their first and only lead of the game. A mere 37 seconds after Vilanova’s goal, junior Carla Carrega scored the equalizer, and Cal pulled away from there, scoring nine unanswered goals.
The following morning, the Bears faced No. 5 Arizona State, which had beaten No. 15 Long Beach State in its first game. It was a back-and-forth matchup early on, and Cal went into the half with a small 4-3 cushion. In the third period, however, the Bears pulled ahead. Senior Emily Loughlin, junior Anna Illes and freshman Emma Wright scored one apiece to counter the sole goal by Arizona State’s Maud Koopman, and Cal cruised to a 10-4 victory.
Illes finished the game with four goals, the most she has had in a game this season. Wright and Carrega each netted two as well.
Later that afternoon, Cal squared off against top-ranked Stanford in the semifinals.
In a tight match, hat tricks from Antal and junior Kindred Paul were not enough to match the Cardinal, whose dynamic duo of Maggie Steffens and Makenzie Fischer combined to score nine of the team’s 12 goals.
Late in the third quarter, Fischer put Stanford up 10-5 with her fifth goal of the game. While the Bears answered with three quick scores, the Cardinal scored two in the fourth to put the game out of reach. The 12-9 defeat was only the second loss for Cal this season, both of which came at the hands of Stanford.
On the other side of the bracket, No. 3 UCLA had lost in the semifinals to the eventual tournament champions, No. 2 USC, which set up a consolation match between the two top UC teams. The two were evenly matched, and neither could pull away, as the biggest lead for either squad was three.
With 3:51 remaining in the fourth, Cal senior Genevieve Weed scored her second goal of the game. The score was tied at 11, and the conference foes appeared to be heading for overtime. UCLA, however, was able to draw a penalty, and redshirt senior Rachel Fattal nailed the one-on-one opportunity to hand the Bears a tear-jerking loss.
Though Cal was not able to come up with key victories against higher-ranked opponents, it showed that it can compete with the best teams in the nation.
Leo Liu covers women’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].