Nearing the end of its nonconference schedule, the No. 4-ranked Cal men’s water polo team continues to chug along a winning path. The Bears rebounded nicely from their first loss of the season last week, as they secured a 16-9 win over Santa Clara on Wednesday evening. Cal then came back to their home pool and dominated San Jose State early Saturday — it was never even close, as the Bears handed the Spartans a 22-1 defeat.
The midweek match hit the reset button for the Bears, and they exploded out to a 10-3 lead by the half. As a team, Cal was incredibly efficient on the offensive end, converting more than 50 percent of its shots into goals.
Senior Johnny Hooper returned from Berlin, Germany after a stint with Team USA at the FINA Men’s Water Polo World Cup to lead the Bears with six goals against the Broncos. His instant impact on offense has been clearly evident in his first two matches back this season.
“He’s a unique player, and stylistically, I let him take chances that other players are not allowed to,” said Cal head coach Kirk Everist. “The key is that the other players in the pool need to know how long his leash is, and fill in the blanks on offense.”
Hooper makes his other teammates better, too. The attention he draws from the opposing defense allows for other players, such as senior Odysseas Masmanidis and junior Jordan Hoover, to get open shots they can capitalize on.
Once again, Hooper littered the stat sheet with another six-goal performance. On his second goal of the day, he pulled into fourth place on the all-time scoring list at Cal — passing none other than Everist.
The Spartans got their first and only goal of the contest on a power play midway through the third quarter. Cal’s defense was stifling, and San Jose State struggled to get shots on goal throughout the game.
“They were working for the right thing, attacking the right way, playing defense with intensity, helping each other, crashing and moving, and that went for the entire four quarters,” Everist said. “It is important for us from a growth standpoint, because we have had some blips when we change up lineups and go with some younger players or players who haven’t gotten a lot of minutes.”
The Bear’s utter control of the match from beginning to end allowed many of their younger players to get important playing minutes. As Cal prepares for games against the top-three ranked teams in the country later this season, Cal will rely on the depth of its lineup in order to win.
“We’ve struggled getting consistent minutes outside of our starting seven to eight players,” Everist said. “We were able to get more out of those other guys today and still have intensity and focus.”
There is no better way for Cal to head into the upcoming road trip than coming fresh off its most impressive performance of the season. The defense has been dominant all season, but if the offense can find its rhythm like it did on Saturday, then the Bears will continue to add to the win column and make it a season to remember.
Charlie Griffen covers men’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].