Bears sweep the stage: Cal opens season with 4-0 record

Photo of men's water polo match
Madeleine Fruman/Staff

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“Well begun is half done.” 

While the work has only just begun, the Bears started the season off with a bang at the Navy Open, steamrolling their way through the competition to a 4-0 record.

To put its dominance into perspective, Cal outscored its opponents by a whopping 9.25 margin; moreover, only one out of four teams was able to score in the double digits against the Bears.

The blue and gold had plenty of wins this weekend, but opening their slate with a win against the tournament host was quite the statement. Cal never took its foot off of the gas against the Navy, securing a convincing 18-7 win. The defense was just as impressive as the offense this game, as juniors Nikolaus Papanikolaou and Garrett Dunn had four steals each while senior Miles O’Brien-Schridde chipped in two of his own.

“Our patience was huge in our attacks and waiting for the best opportunity to either enter the ball in the center or take an outside shot. And then also, our exclusions — drawing them out of center contributed a lot to our four wins this weekend,” said Cal freshman Wyatt Mundelius.

The blue and gold’s most dominant performance came against Bucknell, where they shattered the Bison 20-8. Cal did not lose a single quarter, and seven players scored multiple goals. Mundelius was the standout performer, leading the way with four goals in just his first day on the job.

“I had a lot of help from our center’s drawing zones, which allowed me to be free on the outside and attack without a defender because my defender was dropped on the center, which allowed me to attack the open space and find the holes to score goals,” Mundelius said.

Successful teams usually require the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts, but it never hurts to have one powerful part. Cal superstar Papanikolaou led the Bears in scoring with a whopping 15 goals across four games this weekend.

In the match against George Washington, Papanikolaou made four of these goals. In addition to Papanikolaou, the blue and gold had three other players with hat tricks: Miles O’Brien-Schridde, Jordi Gascon and Jack Deely, all of whom scored three goals. While the box score suggests this game was never close, the Bears were actually only up 13-10 late into the second half until firing off nine straight goals to take a definite lead.

The Bears’ biggest scare of the weekend came against Princeton, where they only won by two points.  The game had four ties, and neither team ever pulled away by more than three. Senior Deely led the way for Cal in this tight matchup with an impressive four goals, including a timely clutch goal in the fourth quarter to give the Bears a 10-8 cushion.

Cal dominated the weekend, but it is still nowhere near its full potential and has many areas for improvement. Regardless, the Bears have already proved themselves to be a major threat for the rest of the college water polo field.

“Our man-up possessions are going to be super key this year, and also our man-down possessions. So controlling the man-up, man-down game will be huge for us going into the season,” Mundelius said.

Cal got the job done this weekend, but it’s already onto the next. The Bears play No. 7 Pacific on Saturday and have their home opener the following day against No. 12 San Jose State.

The team seems to be sharing a forward-looking, optimistic sentiment.

“We’re looking forward to those games; those should be two more competitive games and hopefully two more wins. We just got our first packets on UOP and San Jose State, so we’re going over some film and kind of what they do offensively and defensively (and) starting to formulate a plan for success,” Mundelius said.

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