Spartans get spanked: Cal crushes San Jose State in home opener

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After his Atlanta Hawks shocked the powerhouse Boston Celtics in a NBA playoff game, Zaza Pachulia was asked what it takes for a team to win. His answer immediately entered the annals of sports history.

“Nothing easy, nothing easy!”

On Saturday, the Bears offered an excellent refutation to Pachulia’s hypothesis in a 19-8 blowout win over the San Jose State Spartans. Seemingly everything went right for the undefeated No. 8 ranked team in the country, who went on a 6-0 run in the opening period and ultimately converted on a scorching 55.9% of its 34 shot attempts.

The last time these two squads faced off was January 2020, when the Spartans shocked the Bears with a 9-8 victory, in what was only the program’s second win over Cal. The blue and gold were unable to exact revenge that season, as the pandemic caused the cancellation of a March rematch. Finally, an entire year later, Cal got its chance. To add motivation, this was the Bears’ home opener, marking their first game at Speiker since last season was abruptly put to an end.

The Spartans seemed eager to ruin the homecoming as senior Tyanna Supreme took advantage of a 6-5 power play to give SJSU a 1-0 lead. This turned out to be the high water mark for SJSU. Cal immediately put up six unanswered goals to end the period. Everybody got in on the action, as five Bears contributed to the early scoring bonanza.

The return of junior attacker Elli Protopapas, who had opted to train for the Olympics with her national team in Greece instead of playing for Cal, has been a massive boon to the team. It paid off, as she put up an Olympic caliber performance. In her best outing of the season, she scored three goals, passed three assists and came up with three steals. SJSU simply had no answer for Protopapas’ blend of scoring and playmaking.

While Protopapas was dominant, she was far from the only bear who showed up. All-MPSF first team member Brigit Mulder, who is off to the best start to her collegiate career, had previously made most of her offensive contributions through scoring. However, she showed off her passing Saturday with three assists to go along with her two goals. Goalkeepers Cassidy Ball and Isabel Williams anchored the defense, each only allowing four scores.

Seemingly everyone had the magic touch when it came to scoring. Three different Bears put up a hat trick: Protopapas, senior Georgia Gilmore and freshman Reagan Whitney. Junior Grace Raisin pitched in as well, scoring two goals in the first period to get the momentum rolling.

The only nitpick one could have for this outing was the number of penalties the Bears earned. Cal’s 18 exclusions, compared to SJSU’s 12, gave the Spartans plenty of power play opportunities, during which the visiting team scored six of its eight goals. But this is a fairly minor critique to hold against a team that dominated in all other facets of the game.

The 4-0 Bears will stay in Berkeley to face off with No. 9 UCSB next week. This showdown between two of the top 10 teams in the country will likely have a major effect on future rankings. While it might not be easy, this last game shows that Cal knows exactly what it takes to win.

Casey Grae covers women’s water polo and writes for Bear Bytes, the Daily Californian’s sports blog. Contact him at [email protected]