The Cal men’s water polo team, which came into the week ranked No. 4, took on another pair of nonconference opponents and went home with another pair of steady wins. As Cal (13-1) completed the weekend sweep of UC Irvine and Pepperdine, the team relied on its defensive prowess and the usual goal scorers.
The Bears defeated the Anteaters 15-9 behind a strong second half performance. Usually this season, the team has gotten off to quick starts, but by bucking this trend, Cal needed to pull from the reserves after the half.
Ultimately, they separated themselves in the third quarter after junior Jordan Hoover kickstarted a scoring train, and from there, the Bears never looked back.
In the physical matchup, Cal drew 13 exclusions, which set them up for six converted goals via power play. On the other end, Cal only gave up five exclusions to UC Irvine. By executing in those ever important moments, the Bears propelled themselves to a comfortable victory.
Cal traveled up the Pacific coast for another victory, this time winning 13-11 at Pepperdine on Sunday. After building up a substantial lead through three quarters of play, 11-7, the Bears let up against the Waves, allowing the game to come closer at the final score.
Pepperdine made a charge midway through the fourth quarter, scoring three straight unanswered goals, but Cal buckled down on defense and was able to keep the game scoreless for the final three minutes. With junior Bernardo Carelli in the goal for the Bears, key saves were made when they mattered the most.
Over the course of the weekend, All-American senior Johnny Hooper piled up eight goals and nine assists. While Hooper demands the attention of any defense he faces, his ability to dish out the ball and set up his teammates stands out in aiding the Bears’ offensive success. Junior Safak Simsek was one of those beneficiaries, as he managed a hat trick in both games.
There was nothing too flashy about the performances this weekend, as it was a respectable effort across the board. That being said, Cal has the ability to wow the crowd with players such as Hooper and Simsek in the pool.
Now, the Bears stand with only one blemish on their record (loss against Harvard) after getting through the majority of the nonconference schedule. Cal wins this week were solid — they did what they needed to do but clearly still have not hit peak performance on a consistent basis.
The best is yet to come for the Bears if they can prove this in a couple weeks at the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament, where they will face the best of their conference rivals. For now, and deservedly so, their winning ways continue to rank them as one of the best in the country.
Charlie Griffen covers men’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].