No. 4 Cal men’s water polo (3-1) was once the dominating team that everyone feared, but as of late, the Bears have indicated that 2016 — the year of the national championship — is indeed behind them. Although the Bears are off to a relatively slow start, their upcoming weekend of play with matchups against No. 11 UC Davis and No. 6 Pacific will be a surefire way to prove whether the program truly possesses everlasting strength.
On Saturday morning, the Bears will square off against the Aggies. UC Davis opened its season with a 2-2 weekend at the Triton Invitational, where Cal also started its season.
The Aggies’ first weekend of action had them seeing top-ranked programs fresh out of the gate. After an easy win over Chapman, Davis took No. 5 Long Beach State to two rounds of overtime play, but ultimately fell 13-12. After adding another tally to both columns on their second day of competition, Davis will be eager to come out on top in their sole weekend game.
Leading the Aggies is senior Yurii Hanley, whose Sunday night hat trick against No. 14 Loyola Marymount propelled Davis’ 14-13 win. Although Ido Goldschmidt, who totaled 51 goals and 108 shots in the 2018 season, was lost to graduation, the Aggies still have eight returning upperclassmen in addition to Hanley.
Regardless of the result of Saturday’s game against Davis, Cal will have to be ready to face Pacific. The Tigers (1-0) have won all three of their games, two of which were exhibitions. They are coming off a 12-12 season, during which they fell to the Bears in a tight 11-8 game.
Although Pacific boasts a higher ranking than Davis, the Aggies are arguably more prepared for the level of competition Cal is expected to bring to the pool, having faced tougher opponents last weekend. Cal will be the first ranked team Pacific sees this season and the Tigers may still have some jitters to get out.
Contrary to the Tigers’ easier schedule, Cal has had a busy week of fierce competition. After returning from the Triton Invitational, where the team fell to No. 7 UC Santa Barbara, Cal hosted Pro Recco, a top-tier Italian club team. Although the Bears fell 20-9 in the exhibition game, it likely gave the team a taste of the competition Cal will see against tougher programs moving forward.
With both of Cal’s opponents just within a few rankings of each other and only a weekend of play to go off of, it’s difficult to say what the outcome of this weekend will be. What’s for sure is that as all three teams continue to vie for the title of “best of the best,” both of Cal’s games should be heated competitions.