On Valentine’s Day, Cal women’s water polo opened its season against Fresno State after more than 11 months without formal competition. If there’s a heart-shaped candy with an apt message for the way the No. 7 Bears handled the No. 11 Bulldogs on Sunday, the lettering on that candy would read, “Be mine.” That is to say, the blue and gold owned their opponent in their season opener.
In its commanding 16-7 victory, Cal displayed a level of firepower that it rarely, if ever, reached last season.
In the Bears’ 2020 campaign, now-seniors Brigit Mulder and Claire Sonne shouldered an onerous portion of the load on offense. Mulder — who was named an ACWPC first-team All-American — led the MPSF with 59 points, while Sonne — an ACWPC third-team All-American — contributed 44 points of her own. However, the team showed in its 2021 opener that this level of offensive production by the duo alone will not be necessary this season.
With eight freshmen and upperclassmen Kitty Lynn Joustra and Elli Protopapas returning from training for their respective national teams, the Bears have several new options on offense. Against Fresno State, none of those options stood out more than freshman Maryn Dempsey.
Dempsey netted a hat trick in her collegiate debut, a feat that hadn’t been accomplished by a Cal player since 2014. The newcomer was bold on offense, taking as many shots as Mulder and Sonne combined, but clearly, she made the most of those attempts.
It wasn’t just Dempsey who showed promise on offense, however, as 12 Bears got in the scoring column in what turned out to be their most decisive season-opening victory in four years.
Dempsey wasn’t the only Cal player to find the back of the cage more than once, either. Sophomore Shea Salvino and senior Georgia Gilmore each tallied two goals of their own Sunday.
Cal played stellar defense over the course of its win as well. In an 11-minute stretch spanning the majority of the second and third quarters, the blue and gold held the Bulldogs scoreless. During that span, the Bears rattled off seven unanswered goals.
In goal, sophomore Isabel Williams and senior Cassidy Ball both turned in solid performances. The former faced nine shots and saved five, while the latter continued to climb Cal’s all-time saves list with four of her own. After Sunday’s contest, Ball sits in ninth on that list with 194 saves.
These two teams will meet again Saturday, but there is little reason to expect a different result. While senior Callie Woodruff had three goals for the Bulldogs in the first game between these squads, she received very little help on offense and nearly scored as many goals as the rest of her team combined.
Cal outplayed Fresno State in all facets of the game — on offense, on defense and in goal — so for the hosting Bulldogs to pull out a win in the second contest of this series, there would have to be a complete reversal in these teams’ performances.
With that being said, a complete reversal is possible given the resilience and depth that Fresno State showed in a recent win over then-No. 16 UC Davis. Six different Bulldogs scored in that contest, and senior Emily Nicholson and junior Daphne Guevremont each added hat tricks. While Cal held that duo to one goal on six shots on Valentine’s Day, Fresno State is clearly capable of putting up more of a fight than it showed in the first clash between these teams.
On Saturday, the Bulldogs will be hungry to demonstrate that they can compete with one of the nation’s top teams, while the Bears will look to improve their record to 2-0. Will Fresno State “be Cal’s” once again, or will the blue and gold face a stiffer challenge this time around? That remains to be seen this weekend.
Ethan Moutes is a deputy sports editor and a columnist. Contact him at [email protected].