USC busts brackets, upsets Cal 12-10 in NCAA semifinal

Photo of Cal Men's Water Polo
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All good things must come to an end. While the Bears were unable to close out their season with a NCAA championship, there were still a lot of positives to take away from their semifinal match.

The blue and gold showed poise throughout the majority of the game, and they had a 9-7 advantage over the Trojans in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, USC’s offense was too much for Cal, and the Trojans went on a 5-1 run to close the game out.

What spelled trouble for Cal in this game was the team’s ball control and ball movement. Cal and USC had the same amount of shots at goal, but USC had had double the assists (10 to 5). On top of that, the Trojans were extremely active on the defensive end, racking up seven steals compared to the Bears’ four. USC goalkeeper Nic Porter’s defensive prowess also didn’t help Cal’s odds, as he had an impressive 13 saves with a 56.5% save rate.

The game was rather physical, even for one with such high stakes. Cal racked up 12 exclusions, and USC was not far behind with 10 exclusions of its own. With their seasons on the line, both teams were aggressive in their efforts to keep their national championship dreams alive.

The Trojans’ offense had its best showing of the season series against the Bears, as USC scored double figures for the first time against Cal in its 2021 campaign.

The Bears were able to neutralize the Trojans’ most prolific scorer, Jacob Mercep, who only had five shots at goal and scored a goose egg. However, Cal could not contain junior two-meter Jake Ehrhardt, who was extremely aggressive all day. Ehrhardt had 10 shots on goal and scored four, in addition to chipping in two assists.

Additionally, USC’s role players showed out, opening up the floodgates for the Trojans, as the underclassmen driver duo of Carson Kranz and Marcus Longton combined for an impressive five goals on the day.

Still, even in a loss, the Bears were able to show off their impressive breadth of offensive weapons, as a season-high nine different players scored. Junior utility Jack Deely had a team-high three points, while sophomore center Nikolaos Papanikolaou led the team with two goals and chipped in two steals.

Sophomore goalkeeper Adrian Weinberg finished out his season with a strong effort, tallying eight saves and a steal.

Nonetheless, improvement is everything in sports, and Cal showed that this season. The Bears made their first NCAA championship appearance since 2017 and were the kings of college water polo for three straight weeks, capturing the number one spot in the CWPA rankings.

The Bears fell short of their ultimate goal, but they still managed to uphold their status as one of the best water polo teams in the nation in a season that presented unprecedented obstacles.

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