Cal men’s water polo looks to right the ship after 2 consecutive losses

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It’s been a tumultuous two weeks for the No. 5 Cal men’s water polo team. The Bears fell in three of their past four contests, but they have a chance at redemption this weekend at the Aggie Roundup in Davis.

The Bears are scheduled for four games in two days, against No. 20 Cal Baptist, No. 18 San Jose State, No. 11 UC Davis and Santa Clara. While Cal Baptist and San Jose State should be good tests that get Cal back to its winning ways, the Bears will have their eyes set on Sunday morning’s rematch with the Aggies.

Last Saturday, UC Davis (3-2) came to Berkeley and stunned the Bears 16-13 in overtime after a back-and-forth battle. Up 12-10 with just 30 seconds left, Cal made two costly turnovers down the stretch, and UC Davis took advantage both times to tie the game and send it to a decisive overtime period.

Three Aggies tallied hat tricks in that game, with senior attacker Max Somple scoring his third and biggest goal in the final seconds of regulation. The other two goal scorers — sophomore center Nir Gross and junior attacker Keenan Anderson — lead UC Davis with 21 combined goals so far this season, and should continue to put pressure on Cal’s defense.

The defensive anchor for the Bears, though, is starting to get more comfortable after making just his sixth collegiate appearance. Freshman Adrian Weinberg won the starting goalie role in the preseason after a three-way battle and has bounced back from some early-season struggles, including being substituted out in Cal’s 8-5 loss to UC Santa Barbara.

Last weekend, Weinberg made some great saves and has regained head coach Kirk Everist’s confidence, staying between the pipes for the entirety of both games. Now, as the season gets in full swing, Weinberg’s play will be key for the Bears as they get set for this weekend and No. 2 UCLA next week.

On the offensive end, Cal is still adjusting to losing second all-time leading scorer Johnny Hooper and fellow All-Americans Odysseas Masmanidis and Vassilis Tzavaras, but a combination of returning starters and experienced transfers has helped the Bears sustain their high-powered offense of years past.

All-American senior Safak Simsek comes in with the squad’s top career goal count, and the lefty attacker currently leads the team with 17 goals. Captain Jordan Hoover has added 14 scores, and transfer Jasmin Kolasinac has already had an impact with 9 goals.

But after two straight losses where Cal displayed both offensive firepower and defensive fortitude, it seems like experience is the missing piece. Without Hooper and company at the helm, the Bears will need to learn how to win.

Coach Everist has been pleased with his team’s hard work, but it’ll be their play down the stretch that determines their fate for the rest of the season. A close loss to Pacific and a blown two-goal lead in the final minute against UC Davis has shown that the team will need to find ways to close out games in the final minutes.

With that loss to the Aggies still fresh in their minds, the Bears will have a chance to bounce back and pick up a series of wins this weekend in Davis.

Tim Sun covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].