Cal splits 4 opening weekend games against UCLA, USC

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Patience is a virtue and one that is especially valuable in sports. While there are many aspects of water polo that require patience, the nature of water polo matches allows teams the opportunity to seek revenge and correct their mistakes from a previous match rather quickly — sometimes, on the very same day.

This past weekend, No. 5 Cal was afforded that luxury as it played No. 3 UCLA and No. 1 USC both on back-to-back days. The Bears finished their opening weekend with a record of 2-2 after one loss and one win against both the Bruins and the Trojans.

On Saturday, Cal won its first match of the season against UCLA in a hard-fought 17-16 victory. As the final score suggests, the score was close throughout the matchup, and the two teams headed into halftime tied at seven. Tied at 14 at the end of regulation after a UCLA buzzer beater, the game continued into overtime.

Luckily for the Bears, sophomore two-meter Warren Loth and junior attacker Miles O’Brien-Schridde came in clutch in the final period, scoring a goal apiece and leading the Bears to victory. The Bears put on an offensive clinic in this game: The blue and gold had three players score two goals each, not including freshman attacker Alika Naone, who led the Bears in scoring with three goals.

The Bears’ defense was less than impressive, but sophomore goalkeeper Adrian Weinberg came up with 11 saves to keep Cal in the game.

After scoring 14 goals in regulation against the Bruins, Cal’s offensive display against top-ranked USC was lackluster, to say the least. USC held a 5-2 lead at halftime and ended up defeating the Bears 9-6. Cal’s spotlight players in this game were sophomore center Nikolaos Papanikolaou, who scored a hat trick, and junior goalkeeper Anthony Rethans, who finished the game with three saves.

On Sunday, the Bears redeemed themselves against the No. 1 Trojans, winning the matchup 12-9. The Trojans never could have climbed their way back from a 4-1 first quarter deficit. Papanikolaou once again led the Bears in scoring, only this time he tied a career-high five goals in the match. Moreover, junior utility Joe Molina played a well-rounded game with two goals and an assist, good enough for a career-high three points. Cal also scored two penalty points this game, with the underclassmen duo of Naone and sophomore attacker Sam Untrecht each scoring one.

While USC lost the match, it still brought the heat offensively and prevented the game from getting out of hand. Senior driver Jacob Mercep led the Trojans with three goals, while freshman driver Carson Kranz chipped in two of his own. Defensively, goalkeeper Nic Porter had an impressive 20 saves, tying his career high, preventing Cal from running away with the game.

Unfortunately for the Bears, they couldn’t continue their winning ways in their last matchup of the weekend against UCLA, to whom they lost 10-7. Cal’s offense mainly came from Naone and Molina, while Rethans anchored the defense with a career-high 12 saves and two steals.

Cal will have the opportunity to avenge its loss to the Bruins in its next game, which is scheduled for Feb. 6 at UCLA’s Uytengsu Aquatics Center.

Justin Kim covers women’s basketball and men’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].