As the American proverb goes, “everything is not all peaches and cream.”
The blue and gold have learned this adage well. After starting the season with a dominant 13-0 showing, the Cal men’s water polo team lost two out of its last three games, going 1-1 in the weekend trip down in Southern California.
The weekend opened with the standard Cal game that Bear fans have grown accustomed to seeing this season: sheer dominance. The Bears’ high-powered offense shredded the Anteaters’ defense; the final score of 17-7 certainly reflected that.
The standout performer of this game was freshman attacker Robert Valera, who showed off his offensive repertoire with four goals and two assists. Seniors Jack Deely and Mateus Stellet chipped in too — Deely had three goals and an assist, tallying a cumulative 62 points on the season to lead the MPSF, and Stellet contributed with two goals and two assists.
On the defensive side of the ball, goalkeepers Adrian Weinberg and Anthony Rethans split duties, combining for a respectable 14 saves.
As important as adjustments are to winning, it’s always ideal to follow the plan in place if the situation calls for it, and that’s exactly what the blue and gold did against UC Irvine.
“We stuck to our game plan, played strong defensively, and that led to our offense,” said junior 2-Meter Warren Loth.
The Bears started strong, but for the second time in a row, they could not pull off an undefeated weekend. Coming into the match, Pepperdine was the heavy underdog, ranked 10 spots below Cal. The Waves clearly did not let this disparity affect them, as they took an 8-3 lead early in the second quarter and prevented the Bears from catching up.
Once again, a freshman stepped up to the plate for the Bears: Max Casabella was the standout player of the game for the blue and gold, tallying four goals and two assists. Deely added in five of his own points and —as usual — junior Nikolaos Papanikolaou found a way to open up the pool for his teammates with three points and five drawn exclusions.
But while the offense was hot, it wasn’t enough. Lackadaisical defense has plagued the blue and gold all year long — even in their wins. This game was no different.
“It was mostly a lot of defensive communications,” Loth said.
While the Bears’ defensive mishaps were a clear sore spot, Pepperdine’s offensive barrage was impressive nonetheless, catching Cal off guard.
“They came out strong, had a couple quick goals (and) took the lead really quick. At half they had 11 goals, which hasn’t happened to us all year (and) kind of surprised us,” said Loth.
The blue and gold are no stranger to comeback efforts though, as they have seen their fair share this season. After trailing by as much as five, the Bears cut down the lead to just one late into the third quarter, thanks to a streak of goals by Loth, Deely, Casabella and Papanikolaou.
Turning a switch on defensively can be the catalyst for an offensive spurt, and this was certainly the case for the blue and gold.
“We played better defense, because the first half defense was just the worst we ever played,” Loth said.
Effort is everything in sports, as it can truly make or break a game for a squad.
“Pepperdine played well, they came to play and they honestly won the 50-50 balls … they out-hustled us, which shouldn’t have happened,” Loth said.
As the Bears march through the season and find their way out of this slump, Cal fans can hope that peaches and cream becomes a more familiar taste.
Justin Kim covers men’s basketball and men’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].