Bears fall just short of perfection, go 3-1 at MPSF Invitational

Photo of a Cal Men's Water Polo match
Madeleine Fruman/Staff

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As the old sports proverb goes, “Losing is a part of winning.” No. 3 Cal fell just short of an MPSF championship this past weekend in a one-point loss to No. 2 USC. This was the Bears’ first loss of the season, so at face value this may seem like a disappointing weekend. But there are still plenty of positives to take away from the past few days.

To kick off the weekend, the blue and gold ran circles around Pomona-Pitzer in a dominating 20-7 victory. Not only did the Bears thrive offensively, with three players registering hat tricks, but Cal also put on a defensive clinic by holding the Sagehens scoreless for nearly 15 minutes.

Following the Pomona win, the blue and gold were up against No. 6 Long Beach State. The game was much of the same story, as Cal wiped the Beach in a 13-7 victory. Senior utility Jack Deely was the standout offensive player of this game, as he tallied an impressive four goals and two assists.

For a team as talented as the Bears, winning simply comes down to effort.

“We have so much offensive firepower, it’s really about us finishing defensive possession all the way through. When we play defense, the goals come naturally, so to speak,” said Deely.

It is no coincidence that for the second straight game, the blue and gold held a team to single digits.

“When we finish defense like we did against Long Beach specifically, that just wears out a team with the pressure that we put on offense as well. That’s where we beat Long Beach by six, that’s really where the credit is due,” Deely said. “It’s less as much about the shots as it is the pressure that we put on the defensive end that then transfers to offense.”

As Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams would say, “Everything you want is on the other side of hard.” If Cal wanted to take home the MPSF Invitational, it would have to go through two of the best teams in the nation to get there in No. 1 UCLA and No. 2 USC.

Spoiler alert: the Bears had the honor of handing the Bruins their first loss of the season.

While the final score of 10-9 suggested it was a back-and-forth affair, Cal remarkably had a convincing 10-6 lead with less than five minutes to go. UCLA managed to put together a last-minute comeback, but it was too little too late.

For the weekend finale, the blue and gold matched up against a familiar foe in the Trojans. USC knocked off Cal in last season’s NCAA tournament, so the Bears were looking for redemption.

Unfortunately, a winning result failed to come to fruition as USC proved too much for the worn-out Cal squad. The Bears’ standout players were veterans Deely and attacker Miles O’Brien-Schridde, who tallied four points each, as well as center Nikolaos Papanikolaou, who chipped in with a hat trick of his own.

Fatigue, rather than schemes or effort, seemed to be the main factor in the loss.

“In the fourth game of the tournament everyone’s legs were gone and we just got a little bit lazy late in defensive possessions, myself included,” Deely said.

Nobody likes losing. But the only thing worse than losing a game is not taking anything away from a loss and building off of it.

“(We) allowed USC some opportunities that next time we hope not to give them and that would be the biggest thing. We didn’t finish defense like we did the first three games,” Deely said.

Luckily for the Bears, they’ll get another stab at USC on Oct. 9. Until then, they will have to improve off of this weekend and just keep swimming.

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