This weekend, Cal will face off against Arizona State in Berkeley at the Spieker Aquatics Complex. After starting off 5-0, the Bears have stumbled and lost their last four games. These two matches can serve as a turning point for Cal this season.
The past few weeks have been a challenge for the Bears, as they failed to secure a win in doubleheaders against two of the top three teams in the nation. They lost back to back in Westwood against UCLA and couldn’t beat USC in either of their two matchups in Berkeley. These four straight losses presented some clear areas for improvement.
Cal’s usually stout defense struggled to slow down its Los Angeles opposition. After the Bears only allowed an average of 7.4 goals per game to the opposition throughout their first five games of the season, the Bruins and the Trojans scored an average of 12.25 goals in their games against Cal. This is not the formula for success for a team that prides itself on the defensive end. However, it is definitely capable of making improvements. In the two doubleheaders against UCLA and USC, the Bears put up a more impressive defensive effort during the second game.
On offense, they are led by senior attacker Brigit Mulder. She leads the team with 17 goals despite missing a match, and her scoring has propelled Cal’s attack. Other key contributors include Elli Protopapas, Reagan Whitney, Claire Turner and Grace Raisin.
That said, the Bears’ offense has also taken a slide during the losing streak. Cal averaged a whopping 15.8 points per game over the course of its first five outings. While that number may not have been sustainable, the Bears certainly expected to hit a mark higher than 8.25 goals per game over their past four games. They’ve had trouble consistently finding good looks for easy scores, and their scoring will need to improve in order to compete with the best teams in the country.
Their opponent is no slouch. The Sun Devils boast an 11-4 record and enter this weekend with a four-game winning streak after cruising past Indiana in a doubleheader last weekend.
Bente Rogge, a senior defender for ASU, was just named MPSF Player of the Week after a dominant showing against No. 14 Indiana. Last Saturday, she logged four goals and two assists to secure a win. She added to her weekend by putting up four points in a second straight victory against the Hoosiers. Emma Fraser, a fellow senior, also contributed four points.
This interconference MPSF matchup will play a role in Cal’s future rankings. Despite currently being the fifth-ranked team in the country, the Bears are yet to beat a team within their own conference. Meanwhile, the Sun Devils are 5-1 against MPSF opponents. Cal has a chance to not only end a disappointing losing streak but make some noise against a conference rival currently ranked above it. This would double as the Bears’ first conference victory and their first win against a team currently ranked within the top five in the nation. On Saturday and Sunday, Cal has a prime opportunity to rewrite the narrative for the season and send a message to the rest of the nation.
Casey Grae covers women’s water polo and writes for Bear Bytes, the Daily Californian’s sports blog. Contact him at [email protected].