Cal wrapped up its season this past weekend with a second-place finish in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, or MPSF, Championship. It was a tournament full of ups and downs — a microcosm of the Bears’ season — that ended on a low note, but Cal has much to be proud of.
In the first of their three tournament games, the Bears dominated the Austin College Kangaroos. Freshman center Nikolaos Papanikolaou had a hat trick in the first five minutes, and led Cal through what was little more than a formality en route to the MPSF semifinals.
A smattering of the Austin College faithful erupted in cheers after each of the Kangaroos’ three goals, and the team was all smiles in spite of the drubbing they were on the losing side of. When the final buzzer sounded, the score was 22-3 in Cal’s favor, and the Bears were set for a semifinal showdown with the USC Trojans.
Cal and USC had already squared off twice this season, but this time the two sides would meet with much higher stakes. The Trojans were victorious in those first two matches, winning each by a single goal.
Both sides got off to a bit of a slow start in spite of an electric crowd at Cal’s Spieker Aquatics Complex, where the entirety of the tournament was held. The Trojans scored just over half a minute into the game, but it was their only goal of the opening period. The Bears earned a pair of scores, but both came in the quarter’s last three and a half minutes.
The pace picked up considerably from there. Four lead changes occurred in the second quarter, as USC and Cal traded rallies. Cal sophomore utility Jack Deely netted two goals in the period, as did Nikolaos Papanikolaou. By the half’s close, the Bears clung to a 6-5 lead.
The second quarter’s back-and-forth nature carried into the third. Senior attacker Jordan Hoover answered a score by USC’s Jake Ehrhardt with one of his own. It was Hoover’s first score of the day, but not his last.
Cal led 8-7 at the start of the fourth, but with three minutes to play, the game was knotted at nine. With a trip to the conference finals in the balance, Cal seniors Jordan Hoover and Safak Simsek took over. The duo combined for three goals in the waning minutes, and in doing so punched the Bears’ ticket to the MPSF final.
A day after Cal and Stanford met on the gridiron for the 122nd installment of the Big Game, the two schools met in the pool for the MPSF title. This duel, however, turned out less favorably for the Bears.
Goals came fast and frequently in the beginning. The Cardinal offense netted its first goal just 12 seconds in, but Safak Simsek responded by finding the top far side corner on the Bears’ next possession.
Shortly thereafter, Cal freshman goalkeeper Adrian Weinberg rose out of the water to block a shot, the first of his 10 saves. Weinberg wagged his finger, sending the crowd into hysterics. Jack Deely scored on the subsequent play, giving the Bears a short-lived lead.
Stanford recovered, taking a 6-4 lead by the end of the period and never looking back. Although the Cardinal’s star player Ben Hallock was tossed from the game in the second quarter, Stanford never relented. By the end, it was 17-11 in the Cardinal’s favor.
In the tournament’s aftermath, Cal head coach Kirk Everist praised the way his team grew this season.
“We have a group of young kids who are really energetic,” Everist said. “Kids that really want to grind — and seniors and juniors that pulled them along and taught them how to act, train, and do the right thing no matter what happened the Saturday before.”
With such a young team managing to come together and earn a second-place finish at the MPSF Championships, there’s much reason for Cal fans to have optimism heading into the offseason.
Ethan Moutes covers men’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].