In a sport where the best of the best face each other relatively often, sometimes as much as three or four times within a season, a matchup can lose a bit of its importance.
This will not be the case for Cal women’s water polo when it heads to Los Angeles this weekend.
After dropping in the national rankings, No. 3 Cal (17-3, 4-0) will have a prime opportunity to shoot back up the rankings against No. 2 USC (17-1, 1-0) on Saturday evening.
Just a few short weeks ago, Cal held sole possession of the No. 1 ranking after consecutive conference victories over No. 1 Stanford, No. 4 UCLA and No. 6 Arizona State.
After these successes, the Bears have coasted to two wins against a relatively unchallenging stretch of opponents in the last two weeks. Although Cal hasn’t lost since late February, it now finds itself behind USC and Stanford.
With a win, Cal would clinch its first-ever outright MPSF championship and would likely finish with a perfect conference record of 6-0.
This, however, is easier said than done. The Bears have not defeated the Trojans since 2011, and USC remains one of the nation’s elite.
Currently riding a seven-game win streak, USC’s only loss on the year came at the hands of Stanford at the Barbara Kalbus Invitational in late February. In the same tournament this season, the Bears lost narrowly to the Trojans, 6-5.
The Trojans have heavily featured freshman phenom Paige Hauschild, who leads the team with 50 goals and recently earned her sixth MPSF Newcomer of the Week award.
Hauschild has led an offense that averages more than 13 scores per game, one of the highest marks in the country.
The Cal defense will certainly be challenged by such a strong attack, but has been successful so far this season against top-ranked teams. In its seven games against top-six units, Cal has allowed only 41 goals.
Meanwhile, on offense, Cal has proved that any player can step up and lead the team from game to game.
Freshman Kitty Lynn Joustra scored four of the Bears’ eight goals in the win against Stanford.
Senior Anna Illés had two scores to lead the Bears to victory against UCLA. The trio of seniors Carla Carrega and Dóra Antal and sophomore Emma Wright leads the team with 36 goals apiece.
To pick up a final impressive conference win and make some more history, one of more of these Bears will need to shine against a stellar USC defense that has allowed less than five goals per game thus far.
Two-time All-American junior Amanda Longan is one of the premier goalies in the MPSF for the Trojans, averaging more than 10 saves per game. Longan won her first career MPSF Player of the Week earlier this season at the Triton Invitational.
With a star-studded senior class set to graduate this May, now is the time to capitalize for the Bears.
Dev Navani covers women’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].