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Hollywood ending: Cal’s men’s water polo rolls past USC, beats Pepperdine in overtime

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SEPTEMBER 12, 2023

It was a loud night at California Memorial Stadium. The Cal football team clinged onto a slim lead over Auburn, one that wouldn’t last the night.

During a timeout in the fourth quarter, the scoreboards flashed the usual — college football scores around the country.

Saturday night’s scoreboard display started with Cal men’s water polo’s 12-5 barrage over No. 2 USC. The stadium of Cal fans erupted in cheers.

Down in Los Angeles, Saturday marked the home opener for USC at Uytengsu Aquatics Center and a rematch of the 2022 NCAA championship game. Saturday’s game also resulted in a new milestone for the Bears’ head coach Kirk Everist as his largest win over the Trojans during his tenure at Cal.

The scoring started early for the Bears. Led by junior Max Casabella, Cal jumped to an early 4-1 lead, netting four goals in the first quarter alone, three of them belonging to Casabella.

Casabella didn’t stop there, adding two more goals in the second quarter to cap a five goal performance.

The Bears’ defense had a strong day, only allowing more than multiple Trojan goals in the second quarter from graduate student Massimo Di Martire and junior Luka Brnetic, while also beating out USC in blocks and steals.

The blue and gold did struggle to start quarters off with the ball, losing three out of four sprints. But, that did not seem to make a difference, as the Bears bested the Trojans scoring percentage by nearly 30% on six fewer shots.

Goalie senior Adrian Weinberg shut down the Trojans offense while in goal, stopping 11 shots to end the day with a 68.8% save percentage to give the Bears their sixth straight win of the season.

Cal will head back down to Uytengsu to compete in the Overnight MPSF Invitational in two weeks.

Following their victory in Downtown Los Angeles, the Bears headed up the Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu, where No. 8 Pepperdine was waiting for a rematch of the 2022 game at Berkeley, where the Bears won 17-12.

Prior to their trip to Southern California, both Weinberg and senior Nikolaos Papanikolaou emphasized that the Waves were not a team to be underestimated, highlighting that their 14-16 loss in 2021 was due to the team having a softer approach to Pepperdine compared to MPSF opponents.

Two years later, the gap between the two teams hadn’t grown, with the Waves dragging the blue and gold into double overtime with an offensive performance reminiscent of the 2021 matchup.

In fact, Pepperdine led 5-4 at halftime, but Cal got the final word after Papanikolaou made a game-ending goal with five seconds left in the second overtime period. The assist was credited to sophomore Nik Mirkovic.

Although Papanikolaou scored two goals, it was Roberto Valera who was the most active in the water throughout the game, taking 11 shots while securing a hat trick. The MPSF Player of the Week also racked up three steals with an assist to junior Wyatt Mundelius.

Weinberg left Malibu blocking 13 shot attempts by the Waves’ offense while allowing all nine goals made, finishing the contest with 59.1% save percentage and two steals.

Graduate student Ryan Brosnan, senior Christian Hosea and sophomore Adam Csapo led Pepperdine’s offense with two goals apiece.

For the second week in a row, the Bears return to Berkeley from Southern California with a perfect record.

Additionally, another Bear took home the MPSF Player of the Week —  Papanikolaou received the honor for the fourth time in his career.

Cal will travel to Davis on Sept. 15 to play the 5-1 Aggies.

Contact Spencer Jung at 


SEPTEMBER 12, 2023