The Cal water polo alumni pushed the Bears to the absolute brink at the Legends Aquatic Center. The alumni sought to give the Bears their second loss on the season and looked incredibly poised to do so.
Though past their prime, the alumni dug deep and showed their younger successors that they have still got it. In the end, it came down to one final shot. The Bears rifled the ball through the arms of two alumni to inch out a 13-12 victory.
In all seriousness, the annual Cal men’s water polo alumni game was a celebratory affair. Alumni from far and wide returned to Berkeley to reunite with former teammates and relive some of the glory days from back when they used to compete for Cal.
The sun shined bright on the reunion, with alumni and their families gathered to enjoy a feel-good scrimmage with the current iteration of Cal men’s water polo.
Even head coach Kirk Everist got in some action. As an accomplished Cal water polo alumni in his own right, with a couple of All-American and Olympic selections to his name, Everist jumped into the pool and led the alumni into battle against his Bears.
On the other side of the pool, senior Jack Deely took on the coaching role for the current team, filling the hole left by Everist’s absence.
The Bears flexed their obvious advantages over the alumni early in the game. With their youth, conditioning and current status as the defending national champions, the only thing the Bears might not have an advantage in is experience.
Still, it was a mostly jovial outing.
The team was joking around, trying out trick shots and mostly just enjoying themselves.
But it was quite impressive how fluid the alumni looked despite not having played collegiate water polo in a good amount of time. They might not be in their primes, but they were certainly able to keep pace with the Bears as they jostled back and forth with them. With a clear disadvantage in athleticism and conditioning, the alumni resorted to cheap tactics to stay in the game.
The occasional pushing the opposing player’s head underwater, grabbing their legs, the ever so slight yanking of their caps, anything to mess with the Bears. It even seemed like they curry some favor with the referees.
At one point, Everist got in a friendly scuffle with his star player Nikolaos Papanikolaou. Everist tackled Papanikolaou, or at least the aquatic equivalent of a tackle, and the two shared a couple of laughs and exchanged splashes.
The alumni eventually took control of the game after the Bears subbed in one of their non-goalie players to defend their goal.
The Bears mounted a furious comeback late in the fourth quarter, capitalizing off turnovers and eventually tied the game at 12 apiece. In the dying seconds of the match, the alumni allowed the Bears to take a penalty shot. It wasn’t the traditional penalty shot, the alumni put two players into the goal, and had another to the side of the Bears’ attacker wave their arms in his face.
Somehow, he fired the ball between the two defenders and while they were able to block the shot, it slipped through and buoyed its way past the goal line.
The alumni’s good favor wasn’t exactly reciprocated. They asked for a penalty shot in return but the Bears were too busy cheering and jumping into the pool, preoccupied with celebrating what would eventually be deemed the final goal of the alumni game. One alumni joked, “Good luck with donations this year!” before laughing at the Bears’ celebration dances.
All around, the alumni game was a fun reunion and good break for the Bears as they ready themselves for their next stretch of games versus UC Davis and USC.