After nothing but wins in a 4-0 showing at the Aggie Roundup last weekend, No. 7 Cal men’s water polo had mixed results in its visit to UCLA for the SoCal Invite. In a stacked field featuring many of the nation’s elite college teams, the Bears went 2-2 en route to a sixth place finish.
Cal played its first game at UCLA’s Spieker Aquatics Center on Friday afternoon, a showdown with No. 10 UC Irvine. The Anteaters scored an early goal to jump out to a 1-0 lead, but the Bears owned the rest of the half in largely thanks to a pair of scores from true freshman standout Nikolaos Papanikolaou. Papanikolaou was just getting warmed up, as his performance over the course of the weekend earned him the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation’s Newcomer of the Week award.
Cal was out to a 6-2 lead by the time the curtains closed on the second quarter, and never looked back. Senior Safak Simsek found the back of the cage twice in the second half to match Papanikolaou and two UC Irvine players in a game-high for goals at two apiece. The Bears came out on top with a final score of 10-5.
Game two took place Saturday morning, and gave Cal a chance at toppling No. 2 ranked UCLA. But it was not to be, as Jake Cavano netted four goals and added a steal as the Bruins outgunned the Bears in a game where the Bruins never surrendered control. Papanikolaou matched Cavano’s scoreline and sophomore Jack Deely earned two scores of his own, but Cal dropped to 1-1 on the weekend. UCLA, meanwhile, improved to 8-0 on the season after the victory over Cal, before splitting its next two games and dropping to 9-1.
A few short hours later, Cal rebounded in a drawn-out, down-to-the-wire duel with No. 6 Pepperdine. The Bears appeared to take command with two minutes remaining in the third quarter, with Simsek scoring to give Cal a 9-5 lead. But there was no quit in the Waves, who subsequently turned the tide and scored three unanswered goals only to come up short, as the Bears held on for a 9-8 win. Deely again scored a pair of goals, and redshirt senior Jordan Hoover contributed two of his own.
There was one last game on Cal’s schedule, a Sunday matchup with No. 5 USC. The Trojans took a commanding 13-8 advantage with six and a half minutes remaining in the final period, but nearly lost their lead as the Bears stormed back toward the end. Cal drew within one goal with 20 seconds remaining, but ultimately came up short as the game ended 13-12, USC on top. Five Bears scored at least twice, but nonetheless, they couldn’t quite catch the Trojans.
After the unconditional success that Cal found at the UC Davis Aggie Roundup last weekend, the Bears left the SoCal Invite with more mixed results. The Bears will undoubtedly be eagerly awaiting their upcoming chances to gain revenge against the Bruins and Trojans when they face off Nov. 2 and 16, respectively.
On Saturday, Cal faces off against San Jose State for the second time this season. Last time the two teams met was Sept. 21 at the Aggie Roundup, when the Bears downed the Spartans 13-11 in an overtime affair. The rematch will take place in San Jose, but Cal has been rather formidable on the road. As of now, they boast a 9-3 record in neutral-site away games.
Ethan Moutes covers men’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].