Although a remarkable last two weeks has given Cal sole possession of the CWPA’s No. 1 ranking, they will not get any sort of reprieve for their efforts this weekend in Tempe, Arizona.
No. 1 Cal (14-3, 2-0) will travel to No. 6 Arizona State (14-4) for its third MPSF game of the season, aiming to maintain its perfect conference record.
This will be the first time the Bears and Sun Devils have met since last year’s MPSF quarterfinals, in which Cal recorded a comeback win, but by no means will the road to victory this weekend be unimpeded for the top-ranked Bears.
The recent series has been in Cal’s favor (4-2 in the last three seasons), although Arizona State has been a historically strong team. On the year, the Sun Devils have impressive wins against then-No. 7 UC Irvine and No. 8 Michigan to their name.
“They like to dictate the tempo, slow things down and try to control the vibe of the game,” said Cal head coach Coralie Simmons.
With that being said, a loss to the Sun Devils would be devastating for the Bears. Earlier in the season, Cal’s inconsistent play kept it from being one of the few truly elite. At times, it played both like an elite squad and a middling one in the same game.
With superb wins against No. 2 Stanford and No. 4 UCLA, Cal has been the former as of recent, holding the Bruins to only three goals in a defensive masterpiece last weekend.
This elite defense will need to make another appearance against Arizona State. Typically, matches featuring two top-ranked teams, such as this one, are low-scoring, and it can be difficult to find quality shots.
“We have the ability to go strong and fast with our counter-attack game and pressing game,” Simmons said. “It’s going to be a bit of an adjustment from our last two games, where (Stanford and UCLA) were pressing a little bit more.”
Cal will need to prove it can play all types of game well to achieve its championship-level goals in the season-ending NCAA tournament.
For her two-goal performance last week against UCLA, senior and three-time All American Anna Illés won MPSF Player of the Week, the first of her career. Veteran leadership from her and other star seniors Dóra Antal and Carla Carrega has been vital in the Bears’ ability to bounce back this year.
“They want to be a team from start to finish of the game,” Simmons said when asked about their recent resilience. “More than anything else, they have a willingness to grow, not get stagnant and get better each and every week.”
To remain at the top of the totem pole by the end of the season, the Bears will not only have to get better each and every week, but they will also need to take care of business as one of the strongest teams in the nation should. That mandate will continue this weekend in Tempe.
Dev Navani covers women’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].