On the rebound: Cal aims to avenge its early season loss to UCSB

Ireland Wagner/Staff

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After playing familiar opponents in SJSU and Pepperdine in its past couple of games, Sunday’s showdown with UC Santa Barbara will make three consecutive rematches for Cal. The Bears will be hoping to exact revenge against the Gauchos, who defeated Cal at the Triton Invitational on Sept. 8.

Cal had mixed results in its last two games, earning a win over SJSU on the road but falling to No. 7 Pepperdine at home. The Bears’ recent 13-12 loss to the Waves was particularly tough to swallow, as Cal held a two-goal advantage with less than six minutes remaining.

Last time the Bears and Gauchos clashed, it was a defensive standoff between two of college water polo’s most prominent programs. UCSB prevailed by a final score of 8-5. Ever-reliable Cal senior attacker Safak Simsek scored twice, and similarly prolific redshirt senior attacker Jordan Hoover added one of his own, but the Bears couldn’t find consistent offense against the Gauchos’ stellar defense.

UCSB held both junior attacker Jasmin Kolasinac and freshman center Nikolaos Papanikolaou without a goal, though Kolasinac did manage to tally a pair of assists. It was one of just two games this season in which Papanikolaou did not record a single goal, the other time being in Cal’s first match against Pepperdine.

When the Gauchos toppled the Bears at the Triton Invitational en route to a first-place tournament finish, sophomore goalkeeper Danny Roland racked up nine saves. Four of those saves came with Cal on a power play. Roland has been a defensive anchor on a Gauchos team that has only allowed opponents to score 10 times or more in six of UCSB’s 20 games.

The Bears got out to a 3-1 lead, but the tide turned quickly as the Gauchos rallied to make it 4-3 in their favor. After Cal evened the score at four, UCSB came back with four unanswered goals and didn’t look back. It was the first Gauchos victory over the Bears since 2004.

On the offensive end, UCSB benefited most from the contributions of sophomore driver Nathan Puentes. Puentes, who had the highest shooting percentage of any Gaucho last season, scored two of his team’s eight goals.

Cal will be looking to make a statement when it squares off with UCSB on Sunday. The Bears got off to a rocky start this season, opening their season with a 3-3 record through six games. Their first loss this season came against the Gauchos, who currently boast a 15-5 record.

But much has changed since the teams first met. Cal newcomers Adrian Weinberg, Nikolaos Papanikolaou and Jasmin Kolasinac have each found increasing success and comfort in their roles on the team, and all three have received the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation’s Newcomer of the Week award in recent weeks. Additionally, the Bears have gone 7-3 since their lackluster run in the first six games.

There’s much evidence to suggest that this Sunday’s iteration of the Cal-UCSB season series will be an intense, drawn-out clash. UCSB will be trying to sweep the season series against Cal, and the Bears will do all they can to prevent that from happening. The two teams are on a collision course, and the result promises to be dramatic.

Ethan Moutes covers men’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].