Ready to roar, Bears gear up to face Stanford

Can Jozef Saul/Staff

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For as long as anyone can remember, there has been a bitter rivalry between the Bears and the Cardinal.

To others, it may appear to be a simple-minded territorial battle of the Bay, but to the Cal and Stanford populations, it’s a matter of pride. The bitter rivalry is a looming presence that has managed to barrel its way into every aspect of campus life; it is a feud almost as old as the schools themselves.

For the Cal and Stanford men’s water polo teams, such animosity is still certainly the case. The two have been trading victories for years, with Cal coming up empty in its most recent meeting at the 2020 MPSF championships.

This weekend will be the Bears’ first time facing the Cardinal this season and, sitting solidly at No. 2 in national rankings, the blue and gold are looking to add another tally mark to their ongoing streak.

“We’re prepared,” said Cal head coach Kirk Everist. “But the guys are coming off of a long stretch where they haven’t had any competition but their own teammates.”

After a slight COVID-19 outbreak within the team resulting in the cancellation of a matchup against Long Beach State last week, the Bears are back but cautious. Honing their skills in the final days before the game, the blue and gold are trying not to get too ahead of themselves, with anticipation evident in their eyes.

The No. 4 Cardinal are heading into Berkeley after gaping victories against UC Irvine and Pacific. With a diverse roster of experienced athletes, they will be a difficult team to beat.

Graduate student driver Tyler Abramson, one of the last players to be cut from the U.S. Olympic water polo team, is expected to launch multiple attacks throughout the game. Meanwhile, with an average of two goals per game, senior driver Quinn Woodhead also poses a threat to the Bears’ defense.

“Good players are going to score,” Everist said. “Good players are going to get good opportunities, no matter what you do defensively.”

If Cal wants to come out on top, it will have to focus on finishing defensive plays and keeping Stanford’s offensive opportunities to a minimum while also pressuring opponents to take contested shots. Staying disciplined in defense is important for the Bears, and they must take on each play with intensity, focus and patience.

Again, communication will be essential if the Bears want to be victorious against the Cardinal.

The blue and gold must concentrate on covering both sides of the pool, forcing the ball to be shot from an angle they are comfortable defending from. Each play must be taken seriously because, against Stanford, there are no seconds to spare for unforced errors and miscommunication.

“We’re going to need to focus on finishing every defensive (possession),” Everist said. “It’ll be a good battle.”

As long as Cal plays the defense game well, the Bears’ offense will be able to find openings to score. In addition to its upperclassmen roster of All-Americans and national team athletes, the Bears have an incredible lineup of freshmen hungry for more minutes to play.

Freshmen attacker George Chalkias, center Jordi Gascon and defender Wyatt Mundelius are hoping to join fellow underclassmen attackers Max Casabella and Roberto Valera in the water Saturday.

Well-rested and excited to play, the blue and gold will pull from the lessons they learned in previous games to close ranks on the rival red team. With both teams bracing themselves for battle, sparks are sure to fly as the top two in the Bay prepare for yet another historic duel.

Yuqing Qiu covers men’s water polo. Contact her at [email protected].