Will the Bears secure a clean sweep or will the third time be the charm for the Gauchos? On Sunday, No. 4 Cal men’s water polo faces No. 5 UC Santa Barbara for the third and final time this season at the Spieker Aquatics Center.
Despite being separated by just one slot in the national rankings, a wide gap exists between the teams. In their two previous meetings, victorious Cal outscored UCSB by 31 to 17.
The most recent of those two games came just last week at the MPSF Invitational in Palo Alto, where the Bears dominated 19-8. Cal will be set up well for the win this weekend if it can capture a similar level of offensive production in which nine different players found the back of the net.
At this point, Cal and UCSB are extremely familiar with one another’s strengths, weaknesses and overall tactics. If the Gauchos hope to flip the script, they will have a lot of ground to cover and need to make adjustments quickly. Ultimately, Cal’s depth and talent might be too great to overcome.
After ultimately coming up short at the MPSF Invitational last week, Cal heads into this matchup on a two-game skid in which it fell to a fourth-place finish in the tournament. The Gauchos, however, are coming off the high of beating No. 9 Long Beach State and No. 8 Pepperdine to secure fifth place.
Back on familiar turf, Cal can rely on its local fan base, which has been a consistent presence at home games so far this season. In what is the third of only five home games this season, Cal fans are eager for another chance to support their Bears.
To stick to the theme, Cal will rely on a trio of seniors who have led the way all season long: Johnny Hooper, Vassilis Tzavaras and Odysseas Masmanidis. While Masmanidis has missed the last couple weeks of play, Tzavaras and Hooper have held up things on the offensive end of the pool.
“We have had a great start to the season, but each game is a test,” Tzavaras said. “But if we approach the game the way we have approached all the games throughout the season, we will be successful.”
After a brutal and physical four-game stretch last weekend, the Bears can have peace of mind in focusing all their energy on the sole game of the weekend. Refreshed and rested, Cal checks all the boxes in its third home game of the season and third meeting with UCSB to live up to the saying — good things come in threes.
Charlie Griffen covers men’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].