Bring it on: Cal set to face four top-15 opponents at Gaucho Invite

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Last weekend, No. 4 Cal handily defeated No. 18 San Jose State University in spite of a shaky start. With a menacing slate of opponents awaiting the Bears in the coming weekend’s Gaucho Invite, there will be significantly less margin for error.

All four teams on Cal’s tournament schedule are ranked among the nation’s top 15 programs.

The Bears open against the No. 5 UC Irvine Anteaters before turning their attention to the hosts, No. 11 UC Santa Barbara Gauchos. After those two Saturday matchups, Cal faces off against No. 7 Michigan and No. 13 UC San Diego on Sunday.

Aside from Irvine, Cal played against all of these teams over the course of its 2019 season.

The Bears earned a win against the UCSD Tritons in their first game at the Barbara Kalbus Invitational in February, then defeated the Michigan Wolverines at home the month after. Cal also played UCSB, but that game was a midseason exhibition.

In 2019’s meeting between the Bears and Tritons, Cal was dominant. Then-sophomore Kitty Lynn Joustra netted five goals — including the first four of the contest — in a spectacular individual performance.

Joustra is not with the team this season, as she is training with the Netherlands’ national team in preparation for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Attacker Sarah Siepker, now a graduate, also had her way with the Triton defense that day, earning a hat trick in the 15-7 blowout.

Against Michigan, Cal found similar success. Although they entered the fourth quarter trailing 7-6, the Bears won 11-7. Their turnaround should be largely attributed to the stellar play of goalie Madison Tagg. Tagg finished the match with nine saves.

Junior attacker Brigit Mulder — the only returner among Cal’s four most prolific scorers last season — was also integral to the comeback. She netted two of her three goals in the final quarter to cap off the Bears’ rally.

Mulder was held scoreless on five shots in Cal’s season opener against SJSU, but that’s unlikely to become a trend.

Junior utility Claire Sonne will also be a player to watch for Cal fans. She scored four goals in the Bears’ first game and also had an assist.

Goalie Cassidy Ball, who is also a junior, will look to build off her performance last weekend against SJSU. With that being said, there isn’t too much room for improvement; Ball earned MPSF Player of the Week honors for anchoring the defense in Cal’s 12-6 win.

This trio of juniors will be shouldering much of the load in this weekend’s Gaucho Invite and beyond. With the absence of graduated seniors and three players who were called up to their national teams, Mulder, Sonne and Ball will have greater responsibilities this season.

The Bears will face four quality opponents this weekend, but are by no means an underdog in any of their ranked showdowns.

While the program experienced considerable turnover in terms of player personnel between last season and this one, that’s nothing new for Cal. Every year, the program loses All-Americans, but despite that, the blue and gold have opened the season ranked fourth for the past eight years.

The roster changes, the expectations don’t. Year in and year out, the Bears are expected to beat solid teams like those they’ll be facing this coming weekend.

Cal plays its first of four games at the Gaucho Invite against UC Irvine at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.

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