After suffering their first loss of the season to No. 3 USC on Feb. 13, the Bears dropped to 11-1. To add insult to injury, program health and safety protocols denied the blue and gold a chance to bounce back in Irvine at the Barbara Kalbus Invitational. Cal was forced to watch the rest of the top teams in the country compete from its home turf. Coupled with the loss to the Trojans, the Bears’ absence shook up the national rankings. Cal ended February at No. 4, dropping two spots from the previous poll.
Now, the first Saturday of a new month, Cal will start the next chapter of its season against a familiar opponent from Westwood.
The UCLA women’s water polo team has had the Bears’ number as of late, winning the last four contests between the bluebloods dating all the way back to 2019. UCLA’s season had been perfect until Sunday when the Bruins (18-1) ended their trip to the Barbara Kalbus Invitational with a stinging 9-12 loss to now top-ranked Stanford.
As the season moves well past its halfway point, both the Bears and the Bruins will have more to play for than intrastate bragging rights. In order to grab pole position in airtight national rankings and keep pace in the early stages of MPSF play, both teams will need to shrug off their recent adversity and secure a win.
Cal will have to rely on its stars to topple the Bruins for the first time in more than three years.
Emma Wright, inching closer to becoming the No. 5 all-time scorer for the Bears, needs to continue to be at her best to keep pace with a potent UCLA attack that has found the back of the net a staggering 283 times this season.
Look also to senior Kitty Lynn Joustra to contribute to Cal’s offense. Joustra has been impressive as of late, leading team scoring with eight goals over the Bears’ last three outings.
Spieker Aquatic Complex will once again be the site of a clash between two of the top teams in the nation. After an unexpected break from the pool, will Cal have what it takes to get over the hump and break its losing streak against UCLA? Or will the Bruins resume their dominance of the Bears and begin their climb to a No. 1 ranking?
Find out Saturday, March 5 at Spieker or on the Pac-12 Network.
Ryan Sheehan covers women’s water polo. Contact him at [email protected].