No. 4 Cal builds momentum with wins against No. 16 San Jose State

Photo of Cal Women's Water Polo player preparing to throw the ball
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After losing 8-19 to Cal earlier this season, San Jose State was surely eager to get its revenge heading into this weekend’s doubleheader.

That revenge never came. The Bears, who entered the weekend ranked No. 6, served up two commanding victories, with both matches getting out of hand early. And with only four games and two weekends remaining before the MPSF tournament and the NCAA Championships, No. 4 Cal is clicking at the right time. After some midseason struggles, the Bears have begun operating at an elite level just in time for the postseason.

The team traveled to San Jose on Saturday and came out of the gates firing. Goalkeeper Cassidy Ball saved the Spartans’ first shot attempt, and moments later, junior center Kitty Lynn Joustra converted on the Bears’ first try. Joustra, who hails from the Netherlands, left her mark on the defensive end, drawing three penalties.

In fact, the whole squad put on a defensive clinic. They held then-No. 17 San Jose State to just seven goals on 27 shots for a dismal .259 shot percentage. To make matters worse, most of the Spartans’ shot attempts were not on goal. Cal’s defense forced the hosts into taking long distance shot attempts at uncomfortable angles. The blue and gold also prevented San Jose State from passing the ball effectively, racking up a suffocating 13 steals.

But despite their defensive brilliance, the key to Bears’ success was senior Brigit Mulder’s impeccable offensive showing. Mulder, Cal’s star attacker who, like Joustra, calls the Netherlands home, posted five goals on six attempts. She added an assist for good measure, tallying six points. Her efficient performance catapulted the Bears’ offense to a 12-goal master class. Junior attacker Elli Protopapas was the team’s second-leading scorer, adding two goals and an assist. Cal ended Saturday on the better side of a 12-7 victory — but while that may have seemed dominant, it was nothing compared to what was to come.

On Sunday, the Bears returned to blow the Spartans out of the water. San Jose State hung in the contest, ending the first period with a 1-1 tie. But as soon as the second period began, the goals came raining down for Cal. Protopapas reached the back of the cage before Joustra fired in back-to-back scores.

After Mulder dominated the first match, Joustra picked up the torch in the second, finishing with an efficient hat trick. She also managed to upstage herself on the defensive end. After drawing three penalties Saturday — already an impressive accomplishment — Joustra doubled that mark with six drawn exclusions Sunday. This two-way impact helped the Bears control every aspect of the game, culminating in an 11-2 blowout.

The Bears’ defense kicked it up a notch in the final match of the weekend, allowing only eight shots on goal. The Spartans simply had no answer, scoring on just two of their 23 attempts. It has become clear that the blue and gold hang their hat on defense, and performances such as this show why.

Cal is gathering momentum before its upcoming doubleheader with No. 2 Stanford. These games are shaping up to be huge, not only due to their inevitable influence on national rankings but also because of the well-documented rivalry between these two schools. If the Bears continue to play as they did this weekend, they should have a real case as a top-three team in the nation. With the postseason just around the corner, Cal will want to ride in with as much momentum as possible — it’s clear that the team is already well on its way in that department.

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