This past weekend, the Bears had a golden opportunity to cement themselves as one of the nation’s best teams — if not the best team — and they took full advantage of that opportunity.
Entering the weekend, Cal, USC and UCLA were all tied for No. 2 in the national water polo ranking, while Stanford sat at No. 1. Coming out of this tournament 3-0 was crucial for Cal to establish itself as a legitimate title contender. And the Bears did just that.
Cal’s undefeated weekend proved not only that the Bears are arguably the best team in the nation but also that the blue and gold have the highest ceiling of any team, as their deep roster was put on full display.
Cal won in emphatic fashion in each game, leaving nothing in doubt. In its opening match of the weekend against the UCLA Bruins, the Bears faced an early 2-0 deficit. While this could have been discouraging, Cal stormed back and tied the game 2-2.
The match eventually went to overtime, and Cal relied on the captain himself, senior 2-meter Nikos Delagrammatikas, to take it home.
At the end of the day, great teams need players who can make clutch plays, and Cal showed that it has just that. Delagrammatikas netted two goals in the first overtime period, while junior utility Jack Deely dealt the death blow to the Bruins in the final three minutes. Ultimately, the blue and gold won the match 11-8.
In addition to Deely and Delagrammatikas’ excellent offensive performances, sophomore goalkeeper Adrian Weinberg had a mind-boggling 13 saves on the game and even chipped in a steal.
The final score of Cal’s matchup against USC was the same as that of the UCLA match, but this game wasn’t exactly a nail-biter. The Bears led the whole game, and their lead even ballooned to 5 at one point, but the team seemed to take its foot off the gas, giving the Trojans an opportunity to make a comeback. Despite that, it was too little too late for USC, as Cal ended up pulling away.
Sophomore center Nikolaos Papanikolaou had a standout performance for the Bears, scoring four goals and adding four steals. Fellow sophomore, attacker Garrett Dunn, had two goals, two assists and two steals.
While every game this weekend was important for the Bears, it always feels especially good to beat a rival, which Cal did when it toppled No. 1 Stanford. Unexpectedly, this game featured the blue and gold’s largest margin of victory on the weekend.
The game started close, but the Bears pulled away with a 10-6 lead by the half. When the final horn sounded, the Bears had beaten the Cardinal for the first time since 2017 by a final score of 16-11. The Bears put on an offensive and defensive clinic, truly showing off how deep and talented the roster is.
A staggering eight Bears scored, with Deely leading the team with four goals. Dunn had a team-high 6 points, facilitating the offense to perfection. Tommy Kennedy and Alika Naone also had themselves a day, combining for 8 points in the match.
While Cal’s offense was superb, its defense was also spectacular. Stanford had a season-low 11 points on the day, and, once again, Weinberg pulled through for the Bears with a season-high 15 saves.
Cal‘s next game is still to be determined, but clearly, the team will be prepared for whatever comes its way.
Justin Kim covers women’s basketball and men’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected]