The heart of a team’s season can bring a busy schedule, little rest and some bumps in the road. No. 3 Cal men’s water polo had a weekend fleet of matches against top-10 competition this weekend, as its season goes into full swing.
Cal began its trio of matches Friday night at home against No. 6 Long Beach State. The Bears wasted no time getting things going in the home opener. Junior Spencer Farrar sprinted out to grab the ball that was dropped at midpool, and less than two minutes later, scored the first goal of the game.
From that point, however, Cal struggled to get productive possessions through its set offense pieces. While the rest of his team tried to get the ball into the back of the opposition’s net, junior Bernardo Carelli kept the Bears in the match all night, with save after athletic save.
“Defensively, the numbers are good,” said Cal head coach Kirk Everist. “I’d have to go back and watch video, but holding them to six goals is a good number for us, with three goals through three periods. We had some good saves out of the cage, some good field blocks, were able to get some steals.”
The Bears hung tough to draw the necessary exclusions and penalty shots that they needed to score their goals, but it was not coming with as much ease as usual. Cal carried a 5-2 lead into halftime that it would never relinquish, eventually winning 9-6, but the second half was slower-paced than the first, and the overall level of play got more competitive.
“Offensively, we hit a patch in the second half where we struggled a little bit,” Everist said. “It just seemed like we were rushing and we kept turning the ball over. We even drew an ejection and just immediately threw it to the other team. It was a little helter-skelter there for a little bit.”
On Saturday, the Bears had a quick turnaround for an early-morning call time against No. 5 Pacific to start off the Aggie Roundup hosted by UC Davis. It was a back-and-forth battle all game long, but the Bears proved superior once again, coming from behind to take a 10-8 victory.
It was a balanced offensive attack for the Bears, led by senior Vassilis Tzavaras and junior Safak Simsek, who scored two goals each. Those have been familiar names for the Bears this season, serving integral roles in each and every goal scored.
In its third game in less than 24 hours, Cal ran out of steam against Harvard and dropped its first loss of the season, 15-14. The Bears were unable to finish the Crimson in a match extended to two overtimes.
The margins between both teams pretty much stayed at one goal for the duration of the game. Cal had a late lead in the fourth quarter, but Harvard answered, to tie the game at 12 and send it into overtime. After letting another lead slip in the first extra period, Cal could not recover when the game was sent into the second, and ultimately last, overtime.
Next week, the Bears will reap the benefit of senior Johnny Hooper’s return into the lineup, which will certainly free up play on the offensive end. Hooper returns from the 2018 FINA Men’s Water Polo World Cup in Berlin, where he helped Team USA to a quarterfinal finish.
“We will get a player back (Hooper) that gets you easy goals,” Everist said. “Goals that nobody else can get, because he is just that talented.”
The Bears have to rebound quickly from the disappointing loss, but it could work in their favor — Cal faces Santa Clara in a midweek road match Wednesday. Provided a few extra days of rest, the Bears prepare to quickly forget about their loss and add another tally to the win column.
Charlie Griffen covers men’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].