While Berkeley fills up with football fans for game day this Saturday, No. 4 Cal men’s water polo is hopeful that some of the Cal faithful find their way into Spieker Aquatics Center in the hours leading up to kickoff.
That’s where the Bears are preparing for a rematch against the No. 2 Bruins, and if UCLA’s 12-11 victory over Cal at the MPSF Invitational is any indication of how the sequel will go, it will not disappoint.
In that game, the Bears got off to a slow start but found a rhythm toward the end, as they mounted a comeback that came up just short. In fact, Cal managed to outscore the Bruins in the second half, but the team had dug itself into a 6-3 hole in the first that it could not overcome.
Cal will have to use whatever strategy it picked up after halftime in that matchup right from the start this time around. It will help to have home pool advantage and a better sense of familiarity with the Bruins squad this time around.
UCLA was able to keep prolific scorer senior Johnny Hooper at bay. He was limited to two goals in that contest and will need to step up the goal production that he has shown so many other times this season.
With All-American senior Odysseas Masmanidis back in the lineup, the Bears gain a huge advantage that they missed last time in their quest for revenge. His presence is felt on both sides of the ball in areas that do not necessarily show up on the stat sheet.
Although he only scored one goal in his return to action against UC Santa Barbara on Saturday, the attention he drew from the opposition allowed his other teammates to have more space and to be open on offense.
The Bears’ focus cannot all be on offense, though. After surrendering 24 goals over the past two games, they will surely need to tighten things up on defense. They have shown flashes of dominant defense in recent weeks, not just small glimpses of timely blocks and steals.
On the Bruins’ end, they will need a consistent effort once again up and down their roster. Sophomore Luke Henriksson was the star in the Oct. 14 win, piling up a career-high four goals. On the season, Henriksson had only scored eight goals up to that point. Can UCLA rely on him once again?
Both squads are full of talent and could see an unlikely hero be the MVP of the day. Regardless, a thrilling game is bound to happen — these teams are just too good for an exciting finish to not occur.
Charlie Griffen covers men’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].