No. 4 Cal men’s water polo is poised for another trip to Southern California this weekend, where it will compete in a doubleheader against UC Irvine and Pepperdine. The Bears’ most recent set of victories has pushed the team to a 10-1 record on the season.
With the Bears favored to win both matches on the road, they’ll need to prove that their dominance extends beyond their home pool.
Cal kicks off the weekend against UC Irvine, a team the Bears defeated earlier this season in a 15-12 contest. Considering that the Bears dismantled the Anteaters 18-8 at home last season, the team’s three-point win Sept. 2 should not have been as close. Despite the nearly flawless record, there is undoubtedly room for improvement, especially on the defensive front.
After Saturday’s match, Cal will make the drive up to Malibu to face Pepperdine. Last year, the Bears had a pair of close affairs with the Waves, as both games were decided in the Bears’ favor by narrow two-goal margins — 8-6 and 12-10.
This time, the matchup will be their first and only meeting this season, so bragging rights for the year are on the line.
Cal’s defense has taken steps forward in recent weeks, as evidenced in the team’s 22-1 dismantling of San Jose State last weekend. The Bears have the tools and ability to be dominant on that end, which will give them an advantage in some of the tougher upcoming tests of the season.
Stellar defense has tended to allow the Bears to get out in transition on the offensive end, where they really shine. With senior Johnny Hooper leading the attack, Cal has the weapons to get quick and easy goals that are unstoppable for just about any opponent. Just ask the Spartans.
Day by day, the team chemistry has improved as well for the Bears, who are still adjusting to new additions to the lineup.
“One thing that we have learned over the last couple weeks is that we need to have focus to build depth, to be able to play consistently over a long period of time,” said head coach Kirk Everist.
These are the final roadblocks before the Bears compete at the MPSF Tournament in October. As it stands, Cal will be the only team among the top four ranked teams in the nation that will enter the tournament with a loss. It will surely be a top priority that another falter is not added to the loss column before then.
Scheduling will be to the Bears’ advantage, as they will get a full day’s rest between this weekend’s matches. In their only loss of the season, against Harvard, the Bears ran out of steam after three games in a 24-hour span. With more time and reserve on their side, it should be business as usual for the blue and gold.
Charlie Griffen covers men’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].