Everybody wants to be the best, but as the old sports adage goes, “to be the best, you have to beat the best.” Cal comes into this Stanford matchup as the No. 1 water polo team in the nation, so they will certainly get everybody’s best shot.
Cal is slated to face off against their three California conference foes — No. 4 USC, No. 2 UCLA and No. 3 Stanford — in the same weekend for the second time this season. Cal will play USC at 1.p.m this Saturday before a double-header against UCLA and Stanford on Sunday at 10 a.m. and 6:30 p.m., respectively. The Bears knocked off all of these teams at the USC round robin two weekends ago, so it is critical that they stay sharp, as they did lose to the Bruins and the Trojans earlier in the year.
Cal currently has the edge on No. 4 USC, as they lead the season series 2-1. USC has taken a slight fall in the standings, but every game between the two powerhouses this season has been decided by exactly three goals, so the Bears must not underestimate the Trojans. Furthermore, USC has some momentum from its 13-7 victory against No. 5 Pepperdine, in which senior driver Jacob Mercep poured in 5 goals and goalkeeper Vaios Vlahotasios had 14 saves. USC is currently 2-5 in conference play and 3-5 overall, so they will be hungry for a win. Fans should expect a big performance from the Trojans’ points leader Mercep, who has 33 on the season.
Next, Cal plays No. 2 UCLA who have an overall record of 5-3. As the standings suggest, this will likely be Cal’s biggest test of the round robin. Two out of the three Bears-Bruins contests this season have gone to overtime. The one game that didn’t ended in a Cal loss. Like USC, UCLA has some momentum coming into this match, as they are riding a two-game winning streak. The Bears’ defense will have to figure out how to lock up senior attacker Nicolas Saveljic, who has scored 11 goals in his last 3 games for the Bruins.
Lastly, Cal will match up against its Bay Area rival: No. 3 Stanford. The Cardinal will likely have the biggest sense of urgency out of any of these teams, as they lost their last two games to the Bruins and the Bears. Cal also handily beat Stanford 16-11 in their last matchup, so they’re the obvious underdogs this time around. As long as Cal neutralizes sophomore 2-meter Beck Jurasius and freshman striker Ethan Parrish, this should be another victory for the Bears.
Realistically, Cal’s offensive firepower coupled with the elite goalkeeping will likely be too much for these teams, as their roster is simply too deep. For example, freshman attacker Tommy Kennedy scored three goals and chipped in four assists in his very first three games as a Bear. Junior utility Jack Deely has been an offensive swiss army knife, registering 21 points on the season by facilitating and scoring at a high rate. Sophomore center Nikolaos Papanikolaou has been a scoring machine with 18 goals on the season while sophomore goalkeeper Adrian Weinberg has been holding down the cage with an average of 13.60 saves per game, all while going an impressive 5-0 over the course of his five appearances in the cage.
Offense may be the best defense. Even though No. 1 Cal has a massive target on its back this weekend, it has some of the best archers in the college game ready to strike first.
Justin Kim covers women’s basketball and men’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].