Season openers tend to be unpredictable. It often takes a team a few games for players to find their footing — after all, a team is said to be in midseason form clicking on all cylinders.
In Saturday’s game against San Jose State University SJSU, Cal shook off a sluggish start and seemed to achieve midseason form after just one quarter of play.
It would be premature to ring alarm bells within a season’s first eight minutes, but the Bears’ opening quarter against the Spartans likely incited concern amongst particularly anxious members of the Cal faithful.
To say that the match got off to a surprising start would be an understatement. The underdog SJSU took a commanding 4-1 lead, scoring its fourth goal with 33 seconds remaining in the opening period of action.
Given that Cal lost junior Emma Wright and sophomores Kitty Lynn Joustra and Elli Protopapas — three of last season’s four most prolific scorers — on account of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, it makes sense that the Bears would have struggled out of the gates.
After a disastrous beginning, Cal found its footing. Freshman attacker Sophie Leggett netted a goal with six seconds left to play in the first, lessening the deficit the Bears faced as the quarter came to a close.
From that point on, Cal was dominant.
Junior utility Claire Sonne set up freshman Cecily Turner for the Bears’ next score, then earned a hat trick over the span of four and a half minutes. Cal goalkeeper Cassidy Ball ended the first half with a definitive statement, scoring from across the pool as time expired. Ball would accumulate 12 saves over the course of the game.
After trailing 4-1, the Bears led 7-4 at halftime.
Sonne’s hand remained hot through the break. After finding the back of the cage three times in the second quarter, she scored the first goal of the second half to extend Cal’s advantage.
Freshman utility Shea Salvino earned the final point of the third quarter, before senior center Hannah DeRose opened the last quarter with two scores of her own.
With that, Cal concluded a 10-0 run that started with the Bears trailing and ended with their victory all but certain.
The two teams traded goals in the closing minutes, but Cal’s prospects of winning the game were never in jeopardy as the game wound down. By the time the dust settled in San Jose, Cal officially earned its first win of the season by a final score of 12-6.
Ultimately, it was not costly that the Bears got off to a slow start, nor that they failed to score on any of six power play opportunities.
With its furious midgame rally, Cal eradicated any and all fears of a season-opening loss.
Especially given the Bears’ historical dominance against the Spartans — with today’s win, Cal improved to 54-1 when playing SJSU — it would have been frustrating to open the 2020 campaign with a tally in the “L” column.
Once the Bears got rolling in the middle of the first half, they never looked back.
Cal will surely look to build on Saturday’s performance in the coming weekend’s Gaucho Invite, a tournament which will demand the same type of execution that the Bears showed during their incredible 10-0 run against the Spartans.
Ethan Moutes covers men’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].