The Bears are back in full motion to finish what they started during last year’s season — a season culminating in an extremely hard-fought but ultimately disappointing national championship run. This year, the No. 3 Cal women’s water polo team opened its season with aspirations of repeating past success while avoiding past mistakes. Yet as the Bears return to familiar waters, they now find themselves as one of the top teams to beat.
Cal is set to host three teams in its home territory at the California Cup this weekend Jan. 28 to Jan. 29. The Bears will take on San Jose State first, followed by Stanford the next morning. Then, they will finish off the invitational with a match against UC Davis.
Last year, the Bears bested the Cardinals in an overtime match at the Stanford Invitational. This always highly anticipated “Big Splash” will be the game to determine their outlook for the season.
Starting off this season, the blue and gold opened with an exhibition game against California State University, East Bay. Cal was ultimately victorious, 22-2. Ranked second overall in goals last season, junior Ruby Swadling scored the second goal of the game. The international player from Australia mentioned how it was great to get back into playing against competition.
“It was really nice to get back in the water. We have had a really hard Fall and it is nice to get a win in the first game and get rid of the cobwebs,” Swadling said. “We have a big tournament coming up next weekend again against Fresno at Fresno State and we have a big few games, so it is nice to get a win under our belt.”
Head coach Coralie Simmons also had positive feedback from this debut game for the Bears as they showed off their new young team.
“We played pretty well collectively. There are times that we kept pace with one another, but helped each other win when, in circumstances when someone is beat. I thought those adjustments were really nice to see. So it was great to see the first game out of the gates as a kind of collective playing,” Simmons said.
Most recently at the Bulldog Fest at Fresno State, the Bears managed to come out undefeated with a perfect record of 3-0. Cal showed tremendous speed and strength against its opponents, with many of its goals coming off of offensive counter attacks. Swadling even noted how their team has made improvements with their overall game speed.
“We are a really fast team this season. We have been working a lot on our counter attack recently, so I think executing our counter attack really well will be a really important part of our game.”
However, this may lead the Bears into trouble at times, as Simmons explained how playing fast is a slippery slope to playing sloppy. Thus, the question remains: what will Cal do to overcome this obstacle early in the season to ensure future success?
“What our adjustment can be is if we are gonna play fast, we have to be able to play fast, but also, think fast. We are getting the ball looking like we are playing a little rushed at times,” Simmons said. “Can we keep up with our own pace? Which is kind of interesting in terms of the physicality. Can our mental game keep up with our game physically?”
Overall, the Bears are fighting to get back to the semifinal game of the NCAA championship as they fell short to the USC Trojans, 9-7 in the 2022 season. For now, Simmons plans on taking it one game at a time.
“It is going to be tournament by tournament to start out. We have our tournament in Stanford next. That is going to be a great sample for how much we need to adjust early in terms of our competition.”
With this neck-and-neck competition, the Bears will have to fight to keep their spot in the top three of the NCAA.