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NCAA Championship: It's about the small moments

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DECEMBER 02, 2022

For the second year in a row, the Bears will be playing in the NCAA Championships as the No. 1 seed. The championship will be hosted at Cal’s Spieker Aquatics Complex beginning Thursday Dec. 1. 

The Bears will not play until Saturday Dec. 3.  

The quarterfinals begin Dec. 1 and will start with a 2 p.m. game where the University of the Pacific will play UC Davis. This game will determine who Cal will face off against in the semifinals. Following the Pacific-Davis game, Princeton will face USC and the winner of that game will face UCLA in its semifinals game as well.  

The winner of these two semifinal games will move on to make it to the finals Sunday. 

This is not Cal’s first experience with NCAA Championships. The Bears are currently 15-time champions of this tournament and are hoping to head towards their second championship in a row and 16th overall. 

Since Cal does not know who its opponent is for the first game, the players will need to prepare for multiple teams and focus on what they overall need to improve. These improvements will be able to apply to any of the teams they play and have them ready for the championships. 

With that said, the Bears are confident with their position as the top seed and are ready for the tough games to come. 

“We have to have 100% focus and be serious if we want to go and get another victory,” said senior Nikolaos Papanikolaou. “It’s a completely different atmosphere. We are going to get the best out of the (other teams). We need to be the best version of ourselves and our team because a lot of things are at stake.” 

For some players like goalkeeper Adrian Weinberg, being the best version of himself begins with taking care of himself. This consists of eating the right things, meditating and preparing his body for these heavy-duty tournaments. 

“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 because you are so mentally focused and you are just draining the whole time.” 

Last year’s championship was hosted by UCLA. The Bears have not hosted since 2016, making hosting at home a totally new experience for this group of players. Most players are excited about having the opportunity to play in front of their fans; last year, they had opposing fans attempting to shift their focus but now they will have the opportunity to solely focus on the game. 

There are benefits that come with hosting at home, such as having your own facilities to use and the constant rhythm of your own routine, but there can also be potential negatives. 

“Sometimes being at home can add a little pressure to the guys,” said head coach Kirk Everist. “It’s important that the guys set expectations with people and really lock themselves in on what they can control, how they can play, how they prepare and how ready they are to meet the opponent when we get there.”

Having friends and family around can always be a supportive situation but can also bring added pressures and distractions for players. Everist hopes the Bears will be able to handle hosting at home and experience the positives of family being here. 

For some international players, their parents will be coming to the championship from overseas to watch them play. For some, this may even be the first time they visit Cal. The support from incoming family is something that the team looks forward to, but they will need to remain level-headed in order to avoid mistakes. 

When it comes to these serious games, players need to be ready to make mistakes but bounce back from them just as quickly. 

“It’s not going to be perfect, it’s not going to be beautiful,” Everist said. “How quickly do you come back from a mistake? How quickly do you help your teammate get out of a mistake? That is where you win and lose games. It’s the small moments in between the moments.”

Stefania Bitton covers men's water polo. Contact her at [email protected].

DECEMBER 02, 2022