With the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Championships approaching, the Bears find themselves in the latter half of a brutal, two-week stretch. On this weekend’s agenda: face off against archrival Stanford in Palo Alto, then quickly regroup for a rematch with UC Irvine, which Cal dueled back in September.
The Bears’ two most recent games should give them a huge boost of hope for an undefeated weekend. Their upset bid fell just short in Saturday’s meeting with the No. 1 UCLA Bruins 10-9, but Cal snapped a three-game losing streak the next day by topping No. 8 Long Beach State in an overtime thriller 11-10.
Cal-Stanford is a rivalry that needs no introduction. The two schools have been bitter foes for decades, and water polo bragging rights in particular are a frequent point of contention. Both programs have storied histories; Cal currently has 14 NCAA championships in the sport, more than any other team, while Stanford has 10, good for third-most.
“The Stanford game is something you look forward to every year — there’s nothing like it,” said redshirt senior attacker Jordan Hoover. “There’ll be tons of Cal fans, even though we’re at Stanford, tons of Stanford fans, and it means a lot because there’s so much history there. For a lot of the existence of college water polo, we’ve been two of the dominant teams.”
This will be the first meeting between the longtime rivals this season. The Cardinal, who is coming off a defeat against USC, has an impressive 15-2 record at this point in the 2019 campaign. Stanford junior driver Tyler Abramson, who attended the same high school as Cal’s Hoover, earned four goals in the 9-8 loss.
On Sunday, the Bears face UCI for the third time this season. Cal dominated UCI when the two squads first squared off at the Triton Invitational on Sept. 8, winning 11-6. Freshman goalkeeper Adrian Weinberg turned in a stellar performance, accumulating 14 saves in three periods.
When the teams met again on Sept. 27 at the MPSF invite, it was again the Bears who came out on top. Safak Simsek and Cal freshman center Nikolaos Papanikolaou each netted a pair of scores, and the Bears won 10-5 in the second installment of this season series.
With that said, the Anteaters are not to be underestimated. This season, UCI has beaten quality opponents such as No. 10 UC San Diego, No. 12 Loyola Marymount and No. 16 California Baptist. In their most recent game, a battle with No. 5 UC Santa Barbara, Anteaters junior attacker Casey Lynton and junior utility Jason Evezard each earned a hat trick despite losing.
This weekend is going to demand a Herculean effort from Cal. Last weekend, the Bears proved that they are certainly capable of delivering just that, so there is no reason to believe that it can’t be done again.
Tune in on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. when Cal faces Stanford and Sunday when Cal completes its season series with UCI starting at 1:00 p.m.
Ethan Moutes covers men’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].