‘No clue what we were doing:’ Bears finish No. 4 in Palo Alto

Photo of Cal Men's Water Polo player throwing a ball
Can Jozef Saul/Staff

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Everything good must come to an end. While it is tempting to relish in victory, it’s more important to remember that nothing lasts forever.

The Cal men’s water polo team headed into the MPSF Championships as the No. 1 seed and regular season champions. The competition was fierce, and the team was set to face the rest of the top four in the nation.

“There’s no bad team there,” said redshirt senior attacker Miles O’Brien-Schridde. “It was going to be a dogfight from there on out.”

The Bears knew that each team was going to propose its own challenges and they came into the tournament ready to fight. They expected to win, and based on individual statistics and a 4-0 conference streak, the odds were in their favor.

Deep down, the blue and gold must have known that they were going to make it to the NCAA Championships no matter how well they did. Winning in Palo Alto would be icing on the cake after a successful regular season, and ultimately, that mindset proved to be their fatal flaw.

The Bears were unable to hold onto their streak and the pool bled gold and blue as they went 0-2 last weekend. Here’s what went down:

Stanford (2nd place finish at the MPSF Championships)

Cal’s first opponent, Stanford, was not offered the luxury of the reassurance Cal had. If the Cardinal wanted to go to the championships, they had to win, and they had to win it all. The desire to move on in their postseason journey was apparent as Stanford took an early lead on the blue and gold just mere minutes into the game.

“We were not as prepared as we seemed,” said junior center Nikolaos Papanikolaou. “We were down 2-0 … (in) the first two minutes.”

The Bears were able to tie the score with goals from graduate student Nikos Delagrammatikas and Papanikolaou, but they struggled to come back from their slow start and were forced to adjust to the Cardinal’s pace.

The blue and gold never fully adjusted from their sluggishness. In the end, fatal defensive errors during double overtime sealed their fate. Stanford’s 2-meter driver, graduate student Tyler Abramson, landed a goal with just over one minute left to play, and the Bears were unable to score on their remaining offensive possessions.

Freshman attackers Max Casabella and Roberto Valera had outdone themselves again with one hat trick each, but the effort was futile as the Bears were unable to defend their cage until the end.

“We didn’t really highlight our strengths as long as we should have,” O’Brien-Schridde said.

USC (3rd place finish at the MPSF Championships)

The Bears had a 1-1 record with USC coming into the game, and in terms of offensive and defensive abilities, both teams were on even strength. The blue and gold were looking to redeem themselves from the 11-12 loss against the Cardinal in the semifinals while the Trojans were on the hunt to avenge their loss earlier in the season.

Cal has a tendency to go down fast in the first quarter, but this time, they were able to hold down the fort for almost four minutes. However, individual breakdowns eventually cost them the game.

“(There were) times when we just had no clue what we were doing,” said junior goalkeeper Adrian Weinberg. “People not listening, not being quick enough to react or people knowing exactly what they were supposed to do, but just for some reason not doing it.”

The Bears also struggled to convert on power plays and they finished the game with a shot percentage of just 25%. Casabella led a resurgence for Cal in the fourth quarter, scoring with 48 seconds left on the clock, but the comeback was too little, too late. USC closed off the game 11-9.

Although their finish at the MPSF Championships was anything but satisfactory, the blue and gold were able to come home with a bid to the NCAA semifinals. With the national championships so close ahead, there is no time to dwell on the past. The only thing the Bears can do is look forward and consolidate their strengths to face a fresh start, new challenges and a new opportunity to complete their pursuit of perfection.

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