New season, old foe: Bears set to open season against Spartans

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On Saturday, Cal women’s water polo kicks off its 2020 campaign against Bay Area foe San Jose State. The Bears — who finished No.4 in the country last year — will look to carry over the success of the 2019 season into this one.

Admittedly, it will be difficult for Cal to top last season’s triumphs, not only because such a high bar was set but also because there have been a number of roster changes. 

The Bears graduated six seniors this past year, and will be losing three of last season’s top four scorers on account of the 2020 Olympics. Junior Emma Wright and sophomores Kitty Lynn Joustra and Elli Protopapas will be training with their respective national teams in preparation for the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Even with those departures, Cal will be looking to make a considerable splash this season. Junior attacker Brigit Mulder will build on her breakout sophomore season in which she accumulated 42 goals, 33 assists and 18 blocks. Mulder’s 42 goals were good for second-most on the team.

Fellow junior Claire Sonne will also be out to follow up an impressive sophomore season. In the latter half of last season and into the postseason, Sonne was as dependable a scorer as any for the Bears. She scored in nine of Cal’s last 12 games, including two against UCLA in the MPSF Tournament’s third place game.

Historically, the blue and gold have utterly dominated the Spartans, winning all but one of its 54 meetings with SJSU. In their two clashes last season, Cal earned a win in both contests, by a score of 10-6 in the first meeting and 18-9 in the second, which was also the first round of the MPSF Tournament.

The story of the Bears’ first game against the Spartans was their execution in 6-on-5 opportunities, scoring on half of their power plays.

The tale of their second matchup was a near record breaking seven-goal scoring outburst by Emma Wright. Behind Wright’s magnificent performance, Cal eliminated SJSU from the MPSF Tournament.

While the Bears will be without many of last season’s heroes, turnover is nothing new to the water polo program. 

Cal graduated six seniors — four of whom were All-Americans — between the 2018 and 2019 seasons, and in spite of that managed to qualify for the 2019 NCAA Championships, and finish with the No. 4 rank in the nation.

This year, the Bears will usher in and seek production from 10 freshmen. Attacker Ruby Swadling, goalie Isabel Williams and utility Cecily Turner are among the newcomers expected to make an impact.

Swadling was on the Australian Junior National Team for the past two years. Williams, meanwhile, took part in last summer’s World Junior Championships, while Turner has participated in competitions as part of Great Britain’s U17 and U19 National Teams.

This season-opening matchup may be closer for the Bears than last year’s games against the Spartans, as it may take time for the team to gel in the wake of its numerous personnel changes.

With that being said, it’s quite likely that Cal will start its season with a tally in the win column given its historical dominance against SJSU and perennial placement amongst the nation’s top five teams. The Spartans, meanwhile, will look to defend home turf and open with an electrifying upset of the Bears.

Cal’s season begins Saturday at noon when it takes the water against SJSU in San Jose.

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