Cal men’s water polo holds on to No. 1 ranking, finishes weekend 2-1

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Sometimes you win; sometimes you lose. While the Bears did not have a perfect record this weekend, they managed to earn a No. 1 seed heading into the MPSF championship, finishing the regular season with a conference-best record of 7-3.

The blue and gold first matched up against No. 4 USC. The Bears were able to sneak away with a 10-7 victory, but the game was either team’s for the taking for most of its duration. Surprisingly, USC had the upper hand at halftime, but sophomore center Nikolaos Papanikolaou decided to end the Trojans’ upset bid and put on an offensive clinic in the third quarter, scoring three goals. The Trojans could never regain their first-half form and consequently fell to 1-3 against the Bears this season.

Papanikolaou’s standout performance consisted of four steals and four goals, while goalkeeper Adrian Weinberg improved his season record to 6-0, finishing the match with an impressive 13 saves.

Next, the Bears faced off against No. 2 UCLA. Cal once again faced an uphill battle at the half, finding itself down 11-8. The blue and gold eventually clawed their way back and forced overtime, during which junior utility Jack Deely and sophomore 2-meter Warren Loth came up clutch with a goal each.

In addition to being the Bears’ second come-from-behind victory on the weekend, this was their second overtime win over the Bruins this season. Deely led the Bears in goals with five on the game, while team captain Nikos Delagrammatikas had a season-high 4 points. Another standout was freshman attacker Alika Naone, who displayed his ability to distribute and score with three goals and two assists.

By the end of the weekend, the blue and gold seemed worn out from their two come-from-behind victories. In Cal’s third game, Stanford stormed out with a 12-6 lead by halftime and never looked back.

While this was their biggest halftime deficit of the season, the Bears did not throw in the towel. They made adjustments, subbing in goalkeeper Anthony Rethans for the second half. This adjustment seemed to work, as Stanford was held to just five goals in the last couple of quarters, but the Bears’ efforts on the offensive end were too little, too late.

While the 10-17 final score appears bleak, there were some silver linings, as unlikely heroes got to shine. Freshman center George Avakian had two goals, his most since the team’s season opener, and junior attacker Mateus Stellet tallied his first goal of the season and even chipped in an assist.

Catch No. 1 Cal at the MPSF championship, which will take place at UCLA from March 5 to 7.

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