Bears brace for bout against Spartans, Tigers: Cal men’s water polo aims for 6-0

photo of a Cal Golden Bears water polo player
Karen Chow/File

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After a 4-0 sweep at the Navy Open, Cal men’s water polo will clash off against the University of the Pacific Tigers and the San Jose State Spartans this weekend. While the Bears’ record is perfect, they’ll have their work cut out for them to keep their undefeated season going. Careful planning and coordinated attacks will be key.

Luckily for the blue and gold, they’ll be more prepared for this weekend than last. Because the Navy Open occurred so early in the season, the Bears knew very little about the opposing teams. As the season wears on, they will benefit from game footage and stats of their opponents, allowing them to make calculated attacks.

“We know a little bit more about our opponents now than we did last week because at least we’re able to check stat sheets and see what people were doing and where,” said head coach Kirk Everist.

Of course, the work is easier said than done.

“This weekend, we have a better idea of what we’re going to see, but these are two talented teams. Knowing what they like to do and being able to stop it are two different things,” Everist said. “We’re going to have to play great defense and really controlled, thoughtful offense.”

According to Everist, the Bears will need to watch out for the Tigers’ aggressive zone defense. Cal’s challenge will be finding a way to get the ball inside to its centers while still maintaining control over the tempo of the game. The Bears will need to be comfortable intelligently shooting the ball from the perimeter.

Pacific is a formidable team with its fair share of individual talent. Freshman Reuel D’Souza is said to be an excellent shooter, junior Jeremie Cote has proved himself as a consistently strong player and junior Matthew Hosmer is a powerful counterattack driver who puts a lot of pressure on his opponents’ defense, especially in the front of the court.

If the blue and gold want to come out on top, it is critical that they play smart.

“We’re going to have to solve that defense,” Everist said. “They have a number of players that can shoot the ball well from the perimeter, so we got to shrink the cage for our goalie.”

After their Saturday match against the Tigers, the Bears will head home to face off against the Spartans at the Spieker Aquatics Complex on Sunday. Playing a lesser opponent at home after a long road trip is typically not a great motivation to send a team out of the gates fighting, but if the Bears want to avoid an upset, they must not get lulled into complacency.

“San Jose State is much improved. They got four or five new incoming players that, from what I’ve seen with some video, are pretty solid,” Everist said. “They’ve got good center presence — a new freshman left-handed center, that seems pretty effective. They have a very good 2-meter defender that’s 6’7” or 6’8” that’s pretty effective even against our centers just because he’s so long. They’ve got good perimeter shooters and an experienced goalie.”

Because Cal will play the Spartans less than 24 hours after its match with the Tigers, it will be imperative for the Bears to rest, refuel and recalibrate Saturday night and Sunday morning. Experiencing their first home game since 2019 on Sunday might help the players keep their stoke high.

“That’ll be exciting — to have the parents in the stands, classmates in the stands and fans of water polo in the stands,” Everist said.

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