Nov. 13 was senior day for the Cal men’s water polo team. The stands were packed with alumni, students and parents alike. The air was charged with energy, and emotions were running high: This day was not for the faint of heart.
“The seniors have come a long way,” said senior attacker Mateus Stellet. “It takes a lot of hard work and dedication, and now we’re here to celebrate them.”
The Bears’ goal was to crush the Bruins, and they accomplished exactly what they aimed for. It was an electrifying way to end their regular season as the blue and gold delivered UCLA its biggest loss since 2008.
After their past few matchups, the blue and gold had developed a bad habit of being scored on in the first possession of the game. This time, however, they came into the first quarter with total confidence during defensive possessions and held it until the end.
Cal managed to stay in the lead for all four quarters, which was largely credited to its defense. Junior goalkeeper Adrian Weinberg recorded four steals and six saves, successfully bailing the Bears out of multiple unfavorable possessions.
“We prepared based on their personnel and executed our game plan to perfection,” said redshirt senior attacker Miles O’Brien Schridde.
As usual, Cal’s offense was on point and on top of its game. Junior center Nikolaos Papanikolaou scored the first goal of the game on even strength while freshman attacker Max Casabella sent the Bears’ confidence soaring with an unanswered backhand shot at the end of the first period.
The Bruins’ top scorer —graduate student attacker Nikolas Saveljic — was being held at bay by Cal’s defenders, but the UCLA freshman attacker Chase Dodd took charge, tallying two goals throughout the game. Redshirt freshman attacker Gianpiero Di Martire also stepped up to the challenge, scoring UCLA’s ninth and final point in the fourth quarter.
“We wanted to win for our seniors,” said senior utility Jack Deely. “We really wanted to crush (UCLA).”
It was the Bears’ day to honor the seniors, but the freshmen on the team swam in and fought with fire.
Freshmen attackers Roberto Valera and Casabella scored four and three goals, respectively. Freshman defender Wyatt Mundelius held his own with two goals, including a shot in the fourth quarter that put the Bears ahead at 16-9.
“They’re huge contributors in their first year, which is incredible,” O’Brien Schridde said. “I can’t wait to see what their careers look like down the line.”
The atmosphere in Spieker Aquatics Complex was charged with electricity that day, and every pass and shot during the game was backed up by fervent enthusiasm in the stands.
While the Bruins seemed to be psyched out, the blue and gold were able to shake out their nerves and ruthlessly hammered at UCLA’s defense until the end. Redshirt senior goalkeeper Frederick Houghton replaced Weinberg in front of the cage with 2:15 left to play, ending his career at home with one final save in front of a roaring crowd.
“It was insane; there’s no other pool that gets packed like this,” Stellet said. “It’s like there’s an extra player in the pool, and we’re really happy that everyone came to support us.”
The blue and gold seized the senior day, closing out their regular season with a massive victory over UCLA. Making the most of their home advantage, the game was filled with hard attacks, solid defense and enough passion to set hearts on fire.
“The most memorable moment was at the end, looking at the clock, seeing the score and really getting hit with the fact that we’re done: that I’m done,” O’Brien Schridde said. “Seeing my fellow seniors, hugging each other, congratulating each other for both our careers and the experience we’ve been able to share. … That’s a moment I’ll never forget.”
Yuqing Qiu covers men’s water polo. Contact her at [email protected].