Relentless and unforgiving were what the No. 3 Cal men’s water polo team looked like this weekend. The team’s stars were even better than usual while the team as a whole appeared to lift itself to the next level.
Even with an usually practice schedule and extra rest because of the smoke, the Bears still dominated this weekend against both No. 6 UCI (10-6) and SJSU (9-8) .
“I thought we had a pretty complete weekend,” said Cal head coach Kirk Everist. “We played fairly well on defense and our offense obviously got rolling in both games, so I was pleased. It was kind of a chunky week of workouts with all the fire stuff, but all in all I thought the guys kind of mentally played really well and executed what we wanted to in both games.”
Cal was most certainly aware of the Anteaters’ defeat of No. 2 UCLA a few weeks ago, appearing prepared for anything that could come its way. The Bears handily defeated UCI 18-8, never really giving the Anteaters a chance to jump into the game.
Two goals by star senior Luca Cupido in the first minute and a half of the game got Cal off to an early 2-0 lead. By the end of the first period, the Bears were up 4-2 after two goals from Cupido’s co-captain and fellow senior Pedro Stellet. It was in the second quarter that Cal really started to pull away. Two goals from junior Johnny Hooper, another one from Cupido and one from sophomore Spencer Farrar made the score 8-4 in favor of the Bears at the half.
Cal, however, was not going to let up despite this lead. The Bears continued to expand their dominance as the third period began. Just 20 seconds in, Cupido netted another, giving the Bears a 9-4 lead. Goals by junior Odysseas Masmanidis, senior Connor Neumann, senior Nic Carniglia, and sophomore Safak Simsek, and yet another by Cupido all helped put Cal up 14-6. The fourth period was much of the same with Carniglia, Masmanidis, Cupido and redshirt sophomore Chase Hamming all scoring for the Bears.
“I think Luca really set the tone yesterday for sure on both ends, defense and offense,” Everist said. “I think he was kind of going to make sure that we were setting the right standard early on and lead us in the right direction. I think even today he was really active and when your best players are out there giving the best effort then it’s contagious.”
Cupido is clearly very individually talented, but the mark of a great player is that they make those around them better, and Cupido displayed his capabilities as both a player and leader.
Cal was able to carry its strong performance over to the next day, defeating SJSU 20-6. The Bears put up big offensive numbers and got playing time out of a wide range of players. The game looked like shooting practice as Cal built up an 8-1 lead by the end of the first period with four goals from Cupido and one apiece from redshirt junior Vassilis Tzavaras, Hooper and Stellet.
The gap in the score kept widening and by the half, Cal was up 14-2. A goal by Tzavaras started the Bears off in the second period, followed by a goal from Hooper, one from Cupido, and three from Farrar.
The sizeable lead meant that non-starters were given an opportunity to get some playing time in the second half. Goals by redshirt sophomore Jordan Hoover, redshirt freshman Cade Kruse, redshirt sophomore Gianni Taranto, Hamming and sophomore Mikey Williams helped push Cal to the win.
While the Bears were clearly strong defensively, they were also able to hold teams on both weekends to single digits.
Senior Kevin LeVine started for Cal in both games, recording 19 saves against UCI on Saturday. Redshirt sophomore Spencer Tagg also received time in the cage Sunday.
“It’s been a long time since (LeVine) played significant games and I think he’s starting to see why we recruited him a few years back and he’s got some confidence and his teammates seem to be playing defense in front of him with confidence,” Everist said. “Early in the season, I think both sides weren’t quite sure what the other one was doing or what they were going to do for them and I think they’re starting to come together and understand each other.”
The Bears really displayed their strength this past weekend, showing no mercy. The postseason is still a few weeks away, but this is starting to look more and more like the team that won the 2016 NCAA Championship.
Taylor Choe covers men’s water polo. Contact her at [email protected]