Cal men’s water polo favored in 2018 home opener

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As the No. 3 Cal men’s water polo team (6-0) prepares for another set of games as the undeniable favorite, it must prove that it can handle the pressure of producing in games it is expected to win. The Bears will have their first home game of the 2018 season against Long Beach State on Friday night.

Overall, the Bears will not play many matches in Berkeley this season — only five of at least 24 guaranteed matches. They must enjoy their home crowd and comforts while they can before going on another road trip to Davis for the rest of the weekend.

For the second consecutive week, a Cal player was named MPSF Player of the Week. This go-around, junior Safak Simsek took home the honor after a dominant pair of matches last week. The Istanbul native joins seniors Vassilis Tzavaras and Odysseas Masmanidis as part of an uber-talented pool of international players for the Bears, who will be key to their success as Cal prepares for a weekend slate of matches.

After a brief evening trip to Davis last week, the Bears will return Saturday for the Aggie Roundup. The Bears have a doubleheader — playing Pacific in the morning and Harvard later in the afternoon.

The Bears will get a rematch with the Tigers after beating them last week 11-8. This will surely serve as Cal’s last real threat to lose a game before entering its conference schedule in October, as Pacific enters the game ranked No. 5 in the nation.

Cal head coach Kirk Everist was pleased with his team’s performance in that match last Saturday.

“Sometimes with a young team and some young players in there, you can get bad decisions,” Everist said. “But I felt like the guys made good passes, isolated people and were able to get good offense, so we had a chance to score.”

The Bears will need to employ similar tactics to keep their unbeaten streak alive.

While Pacific has become a familiar opponent for Cal in recent years, Harvard is not. It has been six years since the Bears matched up with the Crimson. The 2012 match was a 13-7 victory, but the Crimson have developed its program since then, making its way into the NCAA Tournament the last couple years.

As a whole, men’s water polo reigns supreme on the West Coast — a limited number of schools in other parts of the country don’t even have Division I programs. Harvard will travel to the Golden State to face top-notch competition, and Cal will surely be at the top of that list.

The Bears have continued to find ways to win early in this season, and it’s important that they find their groove in these nonconference matchups where they can afford to test different strategies. At the end of the weekend Cal should remain undefeated, but, as with all sports, anything can happen.

Charlie Griffen covers men’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].