After a rough couple of weeks, the Bears bounced back last weekend with two statement wins over the No. 4 Sun Devils. Cal, which was ranked No. 6 in the country going into the two matches against Arizona State University, had taken a slide in the standings after four consecutive losses at the hands of now No. 1 USC and No. 3 UCLA. These were the Bears’ biggest wins of the season, marking Cal’s first conference victories of the season. ASU is also the highest-ranked team Cal has defeated this season.
Saturday’s match at Spieker Aquatics Complex featured a dominant offensive performance by the Bears. Following an early ASU goal, Cal went on a 5-0 run. Freshman attacker Maryn Dempsey caught fire during this run, scoring twice in a span of 49 seconds. Shortly thereafter, she assisted junior attacker Elli Protopapas for another goal, giving Dempsey three points in just over two minutes.
But the Sun Devils would not bow out. After falling into a 6-2 hole, they scored two quick goals to cut the Bears’ lead in half. Cal then went on yet another scoring spree. In a span of about five minutes, the Bears scored four unanswered goals to put the game out of ASU’s reach.
The Bears’ unselfish style reaped rewards Saturday, as eight different players on the team scored. Protopapas had the highlight performance, with two goals and two assists, but the full scorecard shows a balanced attack. Dempsey and sophomore Cecily Turner both accounted for three points each. Senior attacker Brigit Mulder had a quiet game on the offensive end for her high standards, with one assist and no goals, but had a huge impact on defense by snagging four steals.
Whereas Cal highlighted its offensive firepower Saturday, it put up a defensive masterpiece Sunday, as the Bears held the explosive Sun Devils scoreless through the first three periods and finished with a 5-3 win to complete the sweep. Goalkeeper Cassidy Ball put on a clinic, saving eight of ASU’s 11 shots on goal.
Cal’s defense was an absolute brick wall, forcing ASU into tough angles and contested shots. It was a complete team effort to cut off passing lanes and never get out-hustled in transition. No matter what kind of sets ASU attempted, none of them worked. The Bears swatted away post-entry passes, blocked long shots and knocked down skip shots before they went into the net.
Cal had one of its weaker offensive performances of the year Sunday, but it did just enough to secure a win. Protopapas once again came up huge with two timely goals and was the only player on either team to score twice. Mulder had a goal and an assist to provide a spark to the attack.
This weekend, the Bears will face their first opponent from outside the top-5 in weeks, going up against No. 17 San Jose State. They already beat the Spartans earlier this season in dominant fashion, and will hope to ride their newfound run of form to another couple of victories in the upcoming doubleheader. If Cal can tap into the offensive potential displayed Saturday and its defensive mastery exhibited Friday, then the team should leave the South Bay with two wins.
Casey Grae covers women’s water polo and writes for Bear Bytes, the Daily Californian’s sports blog. Contact him at [email protected].