After a disappointing end to last season, the Bears are looking to claw their way back to the top. They will open their season at the Navy Open in Annapolis, in which they will face off against No. 19 Navy, No. 17 Bucknell, No. 14 Princeton and George Washington.
The season is fresh, but the blue and gold have continuity on their side: Almost every player from last year’s roster is back. In addition, the Bears have a stellar freshman class. While a talented roster with returners is already a formidable threat, Cal cannot get too comfortable.
“There is obviously a lot of work to be done,” said head coach Kirk Everist. “We’re still working in some new players, younger players.”
The Bears will be entering the Navy Open short-handed. They are temporarily missing players who are competing at the Junior World Championships, such as Adrian Weinberg, Sam Untrecht and George Avakian, who are representing the U.S, and freshmen Roberto Valera and Max Casabella, who are representing Spain. This might sound worrisome at face value, but it could also be a blessing in disguise.
“It’s a good opportunity for other players to step up and incorporate new players into the lineup,” Everist said.
As the proverb goes, “experience is the best teacher in life.” By giving these players an opportunity that can be hard to come by, they can build on the depth of their skills and experience as a team.
The No. 3 ranked Bears, according to the preseason CWPA Top 20, will be major favorites in every matchup this weekend. But in order to prevent any upsets, Cal must play as one cohesive unit.
“Playing solid team defense will set the tone for our offense,” Everist said. “Not hurrying or turning the ball over, taking shots that teammates aren’t expecting — it’ll prevent easy goals, counterattacks and transition opportunities for the other team. Controlled attacks, attacks from the right spot and making the extra pass will make this a pretty successful weekend.”
Junior center Nikolaos Papanikolaou is expected to lead the way for the Bears, as he is coming off a standout season. Papanikolaou finished top 10 in the conference in nearly every major statistical category, including goals, points, steals and field blocks.
Reeling off last year’s disappointing ending, as well as entering this tournament short-handed, the Bears will be hungry to make a splash in the Navy Open.
Justin Kim covers men’s basketball and men’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].