Can Cal spoil top-10 party at Barbara Kalbus Invitational?

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There’s a party going on in Irvine this weekend, and everybody who is somebody will be there. That means the top 10 teams are all invited — yes, that means Cal. A party isn’t complete without a few fringe guests, so marginal contenders Loyola Marymount, San Jose State, Pacific, Long Beach State, San Diego State and UC Davis have been invited too.

In all seriousness, this year’s Barbara Kalbus Invitational Tournament field is stacked. The lowest-ranked team in attendance will be No. 21 Pacific, and every one of the nation’s championship contenders will be there.

The only team the blue and gold are certain to play is No. 10 Michigan, who they have become quite familiar with over the course of the 2020 campaign.

“We’ve definitely scouted them a lot,” said senior attacker Kristina Garcia. “We know each other really well, so it’s just going to be a matter of executing what we know and what we’re capable of to beat them, hopefully. That’ll be a big game for us going forward in the tournament.”

The Bears and Wolverines have already clashed twice this season, with both games ending favorably for the former. With that being said, Michigan certainly made nail-biters of the two matches. Cal earned a hard-fought 8-7 victory in the first meeting, and prevailed 10-8 in the second.

In both games, the Wolverines ceded a commanding 4-1 lead after pouncing on a Bears’ squad that has often started games flat-footed this year.

The Bears are on the verge of bucking that trend of poor starts, however, given that they’ve ended the first quarter with a lead in their last two games. For reference, that’s something the team only managed to accomplish once in its first 10 games.

The Bears will have to be ready for the Wolverines’ Emily Ritner, who torched them last time with a career-high 4 goals. Ritner is second on the team in points (21), trailing only Maddie O’Reilly (34).

It just so happens that Cal has a few weapons of its own. Freshman Ruby Swadling is coming off of a 3-goal performance against UC Davis that earned her MPSF Newcomer of the Week honors. Juniors Claire Sonne and Brigit Mulder are currently knotted with UCLA’s Hannah Palmer for the conference lead in assists (15), and they both sit among the top 10 goal-scorers in the MPSF.

At this point, it is uncertain who the Bears will face in their second and third games of the weekend. It is, however, most likely that they will face Palmer and the Bruins in their second.

UCLA, which is ranked second in the nation, has been dominant to this point in the season. The Bruins boast a 14-1 record, their lone loss a 1-goal defeat at the hands of the No. 9 UC Santa Barbara Gauchos.

Perhaps the Southern California team’s most impressive victory came in its latest game, in which it prevailed over its Los Angeles rival, No. 4 USC 7-5.

Regardless of their second-round opponent, the Bears will look to spoil the party for the Wolverines when the two teams meet again. Behind reliable veterans like Garcia, Sonne and Mulder, as well as new talent like Swadling, Cal seems primed to make a statement.

Tune in when the Bears kick off the Barbara Kalbus Invitational on Friday at 3:00 p.m.

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