With spring comes allergies and itchy noses. Right now, the only itch the Bears have, however, is to get back into the win column. After a much-needed bye week, the No. 4 Cal women’s water polo team (12-3) returns to action this Saturday and hosts No. 20 Harvard at the Legends Aquatic Center.
The team is coming off its first losing streak of the season after dropping two close ones in the Barbara Kalbus Invitational. While the loss to No. 2 Stanford in the semifinals hurt, the defeat at the hands of No. 3 UCLA was flat-out heartbreaking for the team, as the Bruins’ redshirt senior Rachel Fattal scored the game winner with 17 seconds left.
“It was obviously disappointing,” said Cal senior Madeline Trabucco. “Nobody wants to lose, but I think (the losses) will give us an edge. The next time we play them, we’re going to remember all the things that went a little wrong in the games that we lost, and that’s going to give us an advantage to beat them next time.”
Fortunately for the Bears, they will face a less formidable opponent this weekend in the Crimson. Harvard (5-5) has been struggling of late. The team has lost four of its last five, and embarking on a long West Coast road trip will not make it any easier to reverse its fortunes. Beginning Saturday at Cal, the Crimson are slated to play seven games in eight days, four of which are against ranked foes.
Harvard has gone 2-5 against top-25 teams. In particular, it has had trouble mustering enough offense to keep up with its opponents. The most the Crimson has scored in a loss this season is six, and that does not bode well against the Bears’ top-ranked defense.
Led by Trabucco, Cal goalies have combined to give up just less than 6.5 goals per game. They are helped by the team’s pestering defense, which does not allow for many shots on goal. If the Bears can maintain their defensive pressure, they should swim away with a victory with relative ease.
For the Crimson, it will be up to sophomore Kristen Hong to dictate the flow of the offense and keep her team in the game. Last season, Hong tied Harvard’s single-season scoring record with 80 goals as a freshman. While she hasn’t been able to maintain that torrid goal-scoring pace, Hong remains the centerpiece of the Crimson attack, leading the team with 18 goals this season.
On the flip side, Harvard will have its hands full trying to contain the explosive Cal offense. After spending the past summer competing with the best water polo players in the world in Rio de Janeiro, junior Dora Antal is back at Cal doing what she does best: finding the back of the net. Antal has tallied 35 goals in 14 games this season, and three other Bears, freshman Emma Wright, junior Anna Illes and senior Emily Loughlin, have each totaled at least 20 goals as well.
All things point in Cal’s favor as the team looks to bounce back strong after losing, twice, in dramatic fashion in the Barbara Kalbus Invitational. If Antal, Trabucco and Wright can play like their usual brilliant selves, Cal has a high chance of returning to its winning ways.
Leo Liu covers women’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].