This past weekend, the Bears traveled down to USC to participate in the MPSF championships. Cal defeated Penn State Behrend in the quarter finals but ultimately fell to Stanford in the semifinals. The Bears turned around to play UCLA for third place and won, leaving the weekend with a win — and remaining the No. 1 seed for the upcoming NCAA championship.
The Bears ended the weekend with a 2-1 record. The quarterfinals round against Penn State resulted in a 22-3 win, which catapulted the Bears into the semifinals where they took a 9-12 loss. Cal last played UCLA for third place in the championship and won 7-6.
Cal’s first game against Penn State was the easiest of the three and a good warm up for its toughest game of the weekend against Stanford. When the Bears played Stanford last week, they were already conscious of the fact that they would have to really work hard to win this matchup. Having played Stanford twice before this, the team knew what to expect and there were limited tricks up its sleeves.
Additionally, if Stanford did not win, it would have been out of the NCAA’s entirely, something Cal was hoping would manifest if the Bears won. Stanford’s season did, however, come to an end after a loss to USC in the championship.
“We had a lot of mistakes for sure that we need to work on for the next two weeks,” said senior Nikolaos Papanikolaou. “We had thought defensively we had overcome some of those problems during the season, but they showed up and we really had our worst game this season.”
Following Stanford, the Bears played UCLA on Sunday. The stakes were high: If they won this game, the Bears would be the top seed for the NCAA championship. Fans were excited to see that Cal was able to brush off its tough loss and end the weeknd with a win.
Junior goalkeeper Adrian Weinberg, too, echoed the fact that the mistakes from last weekend will be useful for the Bears to prepare for the NCAAs. Even though Cal wasn’t able to come away from the championships as the winner, at least it ended the weekend on a win — and with an agenda of what to work on next.
Moving forward, in order for the Bears to be successful in their upcoming games, they need to focus on their defense, focus and communication.
“It was all about focus, offensively we were not patient with translating into counter attacks,” Papanikolaou said. “We didn’t coordinate correctly. … We need to establish a more solid defensive plan and learn to communicate better to prevent this from happening again.”
During the tournament, Papanikolaou also accomplished an amazing feat: He became the sixth player in Cal men’s water polo history to ever have 200 career goals. This occurred during the Bears’ second round in the championship and makes fans excited to see how much farther he can progress in his following games.
Championships such as MPSF and the NCAAs provide a lot of opportunities for the players. However, in addition to wins and glory, they can also take a significant toll on the players’ health.
“The biggest thing is taking care of my body,” Weinberg said. “I remember last year how draining it was physically to go through a tournament like that. I’m going to have to prepare myself these coming weeks by eating the right stuff and meditating to prepare my body.”
Until it is announced by the NCAA Panel, Cal will either meet head to head with the University of the Pacific or UC Davis — two teams Cal has already defeated this season.
Cal will host this season’s championship on Dec. 3 at the Spieker Aquatics Complex.