It was business as usual for Cal men’s water polo last Friday. There was no heart-stopping overtime, no onslaught of goals, no back-and-forth shootout, just a simple and methodical 18-10 win versus the No.12 UC Irvine Anteaters for the Bears. It was a match that never felt in doubt; the Bears took care of business and extended their record to 8-0 on the season.
As the season has progressed thus far, it’s become clear that Cal water polo is among the deepest teams, if not the deepest teams, in the country. The Bears distributed the scoring load across ten different players, once again showing their depth and talent from the All-American starters to the back of the bench. This marked the fifth time this season Cal has had ten or more players score a goal.
The Bears had control of this game from the get-go but truly put the match away in the third quarter, in which they outscored the Anteaters 5-1. The second half has truly been where Cal shines alone. Because of their insane depth, they are able to rotate players with little to no consequence, which keeps them fresh as the match drags on.
In tandem with their near Olympic levels of conditioning, the Bears have the stamina to outlast any opponent to sink them late.
Max Casabella continued his hot streak with another five goal performance, with 17 goals on the season thus far. Nikolaos Papanikolaou had a quiet outing, for his standards, with only two goals, but recorded a massive seven earned exclusions. Papanikolaou’s size and physicality was on full display, earning the Bears an overwhelming number of power plays and straight up bullying the Irvine athletes.
After finishing their four-game homestand undefeated, Cal men’s water polo heads to their second invitational of the season in the MPSF Invite alongside other contenders like UCLA, Stanford, and USC. While these top teams won’t face each other at Avery Aquatics Center, the invitational offers a great opportunity for these teams to eye each other from across their respective pools.
The Bears will first face the defending Division III national champions in Pomona-Pitzer. While the Sagehens are reigning champions in their own right, they are severely outmatched versus Cal. For reference, Pomona-Pitzer was swamped 16-3 by UC Davis at the Triton Invitational. The Aggies, a Division I team, are currently No. 6 in the country meaning that the No. 1 Bears should do something similar to the Sagehens.
Additionally, No. 3 USC was another Division I team that proved to be too much for Pomona-Pitzer. The Trojans won convincingly 19-8 so expect the Bears to put up similar numbers. In all honesty, Cal should hold themselves to perform something close to those first four games of the season in which they absolutely dominated the Navy Open.
The Bears have never had a more overdog matchup than what they will see to open the MPSF Invite. They have had a much stronger strength of schedule and a much higher quality of opponents. It would be absolutely shocking if the Bears do not win by double-digit goals.
The Bears will play three other opponents to be determined over the weekend. Assuming they do not play their Pac-12 rivals, Cal should roll through this weekend with little to no problems.
Cal men’s water polo is entering a stretch where the more important matches are almost in sight. It is the perfect time to gear up and get some momentum to feel good when they eventually face UCLA, Stanford and USC, teams that all could have been national champions last year if something small broke their way.
The national champion Bears are advertised. This next span of games will be about their ability to fight off boredom.