No. 2 Cal women’s water polo looks to stay perfect at Cal Cup

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After taking care of business at the Rainbow Invite in Hawaii, the No. 2 Cal women’s water polo team looks to remain undefeated this weekend as they host the Cal Cup at Spieker Aquatics Center. Earlier in the week, the Bears swept the weekly MPSF awards, as sophomore Emma Wright won Player of the Week and freshman Elli Protopapas was named Newcomer of the Week.

They and the rest of the team strive to continue their dominant play at home. Convincing wins in important matches against four top-ranked teams, highlighted by No. 11 UC Davis and No. 7 UC Irvine, would go a long way in proving Cal’s belonging at the top of the national women’s water polo discussion.

The starters, headlined by All-American seniors Dóra Antal and Anna Illés, will likely play most of these two games to ensure victory. With another good offensive performance, Antal will further close in on the top of Cal’s all-time scoring list this weekend, needing only 16 more goals to achieve the feat. Protopapas should also expect to make an appearance in one, if not both, of these key games.

Cal head coach Coralie Simmons will want experience at the goalie position to defend against these two fellow California teams. Junior Madison Tagg and senior Lolo Silver should share these minutes.

UC Davis was defeated soundly, 15-3, by No. 1 Stanford this weekend at the Lou Tully Memorial Invitational, and Cal will be vying for a similarly convincing victory.  UC Irvine begins its season at the Cal Cup.

“We have to be ready to play good defense against (UC Irvine’s) up-tempo offense and counterattack game,” Simmons said.

The Aggies will be looking to avenge last year’s matches, as the Bears swept the season series against UC Davis 2-0. In last January’s California Speedo Cup, Cal narrowly defeated UC CDavis, 11-9.

“(UC Davis is) a strong team, returning almost all of their key players and always looking to make things happen,” Simmons said.

Sunday’s game against the Anteaters will be a rematch of the Bears’ 9-7 win in the NCAA quarterfinals last May.

Cal has three other matches scheduled for the weekend, including one against No. 22 Fresno State, and exhibitions against No. 16 San Jose State and the Chinese national team.

“We don’t take any games lightly,” Simmons said. “Each match is an opportunity to get better.”

These exhibitions will also be early-season opportunities for Simmons to try different combinations of lineups to see what works best for the team.

“We are still trying to see what’s going to be our formula and who is going to stand out,” Simmons said.

The Bears will also look to knock off China’s women’s water polo team in the exhibition game.  China has recently won matches against UC Davis and MPSF members San Jose State and Arizona State.

Dev Navani covers women’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].