Beach Ball: Bears go 2-2 at Gaucho Invite in Santa Barbara

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It was a weekend of mixed results for the women’s water polo team. The Gaucho Invite in Santa Barbara pitted the Bears against four top-15 opponents — a good recipe for a tournament filled with highs and lows.

Over the course of the invitational, Cal earned victories over No. 7 Michigan and tournament host No. 11 UC Santa Barbara, but suffered defeat against No. 5 UC Irvine and No. 13 UC San Diego.

The Bears squared off against the UCI Anteaters in their first game of the weekend.

Entering the tournament, Cal and UCI were ranked fourth and fifth in the nation, respectively. The Anteaters were undoubtedly hungry to make a statement against the team ranked just ahead of them, and it showed in their furious first-quarter play.

UCI jumped out to a 4-2 lead, but Cal managed to pull within one on a 5-meter penalty shot from junior attacker Brigit Mulder in the waning seconds of the first period. It was Mulder’s second of 3 goals in the match.

But the Bears started to fall out of striking distance toward the middle of the second quarter, when the Anteaters netted 3 unanswered goals to pull ahead 7-3. It was a rather balanced scoring output for UCI; five Anteaters scored two times each, and two scored once.

UCI led from buzzer to buzzer in its decisive win. Cal’s loss can partially be attributed to its power play difficulties. The Bears scored on just one of their 10 six-on-five opportunities.

The Bears had little time to regroup, as they still had another game that afternoon. This time, Cal faced off against UCSB.

In spite of the short couple of hours between their loss against UCI and the game against UCSB, Cal managed to flip the script in admirable fashion and beat the tournament host.

Freshman attacker Sophie Leggett was the Bears’ most effective offensive threat in this showdown with the Gauchos. She scored four times, and only needed 6 shots to do so.

While the 8-5 final score seems to reflect a game that was not too strenuous for Cal, the truth is actually quite the opposite. UCSB got off to a 3-0 lead — a lead it squandered over the course of the first half. In spite of the slow start, Cal improved to 1-1 on the day.

The Bears split their Sunday games as well.

In the day’s first matchup, Cal again found itself facing an early deficit, this time against Michigan. The Wolverines shot ahead, leading 4-1 and later 5-2, but the Bears turned the tide by scoring 4 unanswered goals in the late third and early fourth quarters of the game.

Two of the goals during this rally came from sophomore center Grace Raisin, who ended up with 3 goals in the game. Cal also benefited from solid play by junior goalkeeper Cassidy Ball, who finished with 12 saves.

But it was junior Claire Sonne who stole the show with her last-second, game-winning goal to break a 7-7 tie and decide the game in regulation. It was a nail-biter, but Cal managed to overcome a shaky start and earn its second win of the tournament.

The Bears’ final game of the invitational — a duel with the UCSD Tritons — was just as competitive, but the final result was less favorable for Cal.

The game got off to a lopsided start, with the Bears facing a 4-1 deficit for the second time that day. But, much like it did against Michigan, Cal stormed back. The Bears evened the score at 4, and the stage was set for a thrilling game.

With just under seven minutes remaining, the Bears took an 11-9 lead. The Tritons, however, were not ready to surrender. UCSD forced overtime, but even an additional period wasn’t enough to determine the outcome.

Finally, in a sudden-victory second overtime, the Tritons scored the decisive goal and won 14-13.

It was a weekend of ups and downs for Cal. The Bears were plagued by slow starts, but comebacks against UCSB and Michigan displayed Cal’s resilience, and Claire Sonne’s game-winner was perhaps the highlight of the weekend.

Is there room for improvement? Yes. Are there reasons for Bears fans to be optimistic? Absolutely.

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