Davis, California. It’s a city well-known for its agriculture. Cows graze freely, but they’re of no concern to the Cal women’s water polo team: on Saturday, the Bears will be looking to put the Aggies out to pasture.
Cal and UC Davis have met twice already this season, once in an official match and once in an exhibition. In both, it was the blue and gold that came out on top.
In the meeting that counted, reliable juniors Brigit Mulder and Claire Sonne netted a combined five goals. Senior attacker Kristina Garcia had two of her own in the midst of what was an outstanding individual performance at the Cal Cup. The Bears made a 6-0 run to take command, and ended up with a 12-8 victory.
The exhibition match was closer, with Cal squeaking out a 13-11 win. This favorable result came in spite of UC Davis sophomore Noelle Wijnbelt’s astonishing seven goals, which she earned on just eight shots.
Given that the game was merely an exhibition, it’s likely that neither team was giving a full effort. That’s not to say that Wijnbelt is not a threat, however: She had four goals in the official game against Cal, and to this point in the season, she is the Aggies’ leading goal-getter.
Through 11 games, Wjinbelt has 33 goals — 11 more than UC Davis’s second-most prolific scorer, senior Chloe Robinson. Robinson is the team’s leader in points, as she’s managed to accumulate 17 assists in addition to her 22 goals.
The Aggies have a respectable 6-5 record so far, with the peak of their season so far coming at the Stanford Invitational two weeks ago. There, UC Davis dismantled No. 10 Michigan by a score of 11-6 behind sophomore goalie Sophia Noble’s 17 saves.
Cal, meanwhile, is coming off its most dominant showing of the 2020 campaign, a 17-9 throttling of No. 18 Pacific. While it wasn’t an unexpected win by any means — quite the opposite, the Bears are now 17-0 record against the Tigers in past meetings —it was the largest margin of victory for Cal this season.
While the Bears’ 7-4 record isn’t outstanding by program standards, Cal seems to be finding a rhythm. In their three most recent games, the blue and gold topped Michigan for a second time this year, hung close with top-ranked Stanford for most of the game and blew out Pacific.
According to Mulder, developing chemistry is helping the Bears reach new heights.
“Every single game and every single practice we grow a little bit more,” Mulder said. “It automatically comes with playing more games and spending more time together.”
With that in mind, Mulder thinks the team still has a higher ceiling
“I think we can always do a better job and continue to work on our team bonding,” she said.
Considering UC Davis’ impressive showing against Michigan and given that Cal has dropped games against underdogs like SJSU and UCSD this season, this is certainly a game that could go either way. The Bears seem to be gathering steam, however, and will perhaps be more wary of potential trap games like this one, given some of this season’s lowlights.
Tune in Saturday when Cal faces UC Davis at 10 a.m. on the road.
Ethan Moutes covers women’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].