Seven games into the season and Cal men’s water polo remains the number one team in the nation. With a collection of offensive explosions, defensive stonewalls and overtime heroics, the Bears have looked like the projected juggernaut fans have expected them to be thus far.
The all-American veterans of the team, namely Nikolaos Papanikolaou, Adrien Weinberg and Jack Deely, have rightly received praise for leading this team to a 7-0 start. But what’s made this team so dominant this season is the help it’s gotten in other areas — this team is one of the deepest you will find in collegiate water polo.
Sophomore Max Casabella from Mataro, Spain, was named MPSF player of the week. Casabella totaled 11 goals, seven assists and two steals in the Bears’ weekend gauntlet run versus No. 5 Pacific, No. 9 Pepperdine and No. 13 UC San Diego.
His scoring output was especially felt after the tightly contested Pacific match in which Casabella scored a team high of five goals. Casabella has offered another outlet for scoring, through both his shotmaking ability as well as his playmaking, in conjunction with the youthful energy he provides to the team dominated by seniors.
Off the bench, senior Joe Molina is another key player who has provided the Bears with energy and grit when they’ve needed it most.
“Molina really gave us some good minutes,” said head coach Kirk Everist following the Pacific game. “Drawing ejections, [sparking] counterattacks, had a couple of goals, had a couple of nice shots too that didn’t go in. He was giving us an offensive threat and some energy out there that was needed in that game.”
Molina is one those unsung heroes, not much talked about on winning teams. Winning teams need a player who’s willing to scrap. Winning teams need a player who gives 110% for each minute they are in the game. Molina’s been that top-notch rotation player for a long time, and he’s continuing to do what he does best this season.
UC Irvine heads to Berkeley coming off a devastating loss to No. 2 UCLA. In a game where the Bruins completely dominated the Anteaters in every aspect of the sport, Cal should have no problems in the upcoming match.
UCLA clobbered Irvine 17-8 — so, unless the Bears somehow miss their alarms and wake up late for a 6:00 p.m. game at home, fans expect them to best the Anteaters in a similar fashion. This matchup will give both Cal and UCLA some much needed tape to measure the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the nation from afar.
This isn’t to say Cal should take UC Irvine lightly. If there was one thing the last three games taught the Bears, it is that every opponent they play will bring their A-game, because they are undisputedly the team to beat. Interestingly enough, the Anteaters out-shot the Bruins 30-22. Irvine is highly capable of out-scoring Cal, something that happened early in the 16-15 overtime scare versus Pacific.
From the beginning of the season, Everist knew that the Bears were going to be the huntees rather than the hunters — after all, they are coming into the season with a National Championship under their belt.
“[The team] understands that now that they have a championship, from last year, there are going to be a lot of teams [playing] harder against them than they might have even last year”.
No game is easy, not least with a team looking to defend its national champion standing this year. The Bears jump into the pool with the Anteaters this Friday, looking to extend their record to 8-0.