When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. It’s an old adage that the No. 7 Cal women’s water polo team personified this past weekend at the Barbara Kalbus Invitational when they dropped the ball in their first game against No. 10 Michigan, but won out in their following three games.
The Bears’ loss against the Wolverines in the opener came as a bit of a surprise. Michigan is a highly capable team that has downed No. 9 UCSB three times this season and nearly defeated No. 4 USC in its season opener.
Regardless, the blue and gold were 2-0 against the Wolverines in the teams’ two meetings earlier this season, coming back from a 4-1 deficit in both games.
This time, Michigan jumped out to a 3-1 lead, and the question of whether it could manage to hold on this time loomed. The game warranted overtime and the Bears outshot the Wolverines 28-21, but this time the Midwestern team emerged victorious.
Michigan junior Maddie O’Reilly was productive from start to finish. She kicked off the scoring for the Wolverines, found the back of the cage early in the third quarter and capped off a hat trick with one of her team’s three overtime goals.
On the Bears’ side, junior Brigit Mulder had a solid game, matching O’Reilly’s three goals. Freshman Ruby Swadling continued her quality play as well, accumulating two scores, an assist and a steal.
The loss to Michigan put Cal in a consolation bracket, giving the Bears two choices: play down to the level of lesser opponents, or try to make a statement in spite of a disappointing start to the weekend. Cal chose to do the latter.
The blue and gold obliterated their next two opponents, No. 21 Pacific and No. 16 LMU, by scores of 15-4 and 12-6, respectively.
Against the Tigers, the Bears were even more dominant than they were when the two teams met in early February. Led by senior Hannah DeRose’s three goals, Cal was incredibly efficient on offense, scoring on 55.6% of its shot attempts. Meanwhile, junior goalie Cassidy Ball anchored the defense with a career-high 13 saves.
It was more of the same against LMU. Freshman Shea Salvino found the back of the cage thrice, and the game was never really in question the Bears overpowered a second consecutive opponent.
Cal’s fourth and final game pit them against No. 8 UCSD. The Tritons toppled the Bears in sudden-death overtime earlier this season at the Gaucho Invite, so Cal was determined to see a different result this time around.
The match didn’t start out promisingly for the blue and gold. UCSD jumped ahead 3-1 in the first period, but Cal hung around and focused on the fundamentals to claw its way back into control.
The Bears held the Tritons scoreless on all eight of their power play opportunities. Swadling won all four sprints for the ball, earning extra possessions for her team. As a team, Cal had fewer penalties and exclusions than UCSD.
It was a tie game going into the half, with both teams knotted at four.
In the second half, the Bears were firing on all cylinders. UCSD took a brief 6-5 lead, but it was short lived; Cal proceeded to score the game’s last five goals. Each of those scores was attributable to a different player.
After a frustrating start, the Bears salvaged their Barbara Kalbus Invitational visit with three consecutive wins. That included two displays of dominance — one against Pacific and the other against LMU — and an impressive triumph over the UCSD squad that upset Cal early in the 2020 campaign.
The Bears will look to improve to 12-5 on the season in their next match, a home game against the No. 2 UCLA Bruins.
Ethan Moutes covers women’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].