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No star, no problem: Bears remain undefeated without star player

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SEPTEMBER 19, 2023

Like the planets orbiting the sun, a plethora of teams bank on one star player to bring a franchise to glory. When said team wins, it will almost certainly be due to the central figure who possesses enough gravitational force to pull the team across the finish line. The opposite is also true — with a lackluster performance, the roster hardly has a backup plan in place.

Think Luka Dončić’s Mavericks pre-Kyrie Irving arrival, LeBron’s Cavs from 2003 to 2010 or Charles Barkley’s Suns in the 90s — all of whom were asked to carry the team on their shoulders, but ultimately crumbled under the weight.

The truth is that few teams have managed the delicate balance of utilizing a generational player without loading on a generational burden.

Without star center Nikolaos Papanikolaou, fans of Cal men’s water polo may have worried about how the team would fare against No. 11 UC Davis and Pacific. Against the Aggies, their concerns certainly seemed validated as the Bears were unable to pull away early, like the team typically does.

Heading into halftime with a score of 7-6, a nailbiter until the final seconds seemed inevitable. It would be Cal’s other 2022 first team All-Americans Max Casabella and Adrian Weinberg who would provide the necessary boost in Papanikolaou’s absence.

Casabella would go on to score four of the Bears’ 11 points, while Weinberg would finish the game with a grand total of 13 saves, including numerous clutch stops in the final quarter to keep the blue and gold’s undefeated streak alive. With a final score of 11-9, Cal would then head to Stockton to take on the Tigers.

With 76 degree weather and clear skies, Sunday proved to be a beautiful day for water polo, and it was reflected in the Bears’ performance as well. While the first quarter was a tight contest with a 3-2 scoreboard, the rest of the game would be smooth sailing for Cal.

Junior Roberto Valera would lead the charge, putting four into the back of the net by the final horn. Arguably more impressive was his finishing rate, as he needed just six shots to convert those four goals.

This clinical execution would prove to be the difference between the two teams. While Cal only took five more total shots than Pacific, they converted 49% of those attempts compared to the Tigers’ 27%.

With another victory in hand, the Bears will head to Uytengsu Aquatics Center to partake in the Overnight MPSF Invitational this upcoming week. While Papanikolaou’s status remains unclear, the team has shown they can fend off fierce competition and will look to remain unbeaten, regardless of who is available.

Contact Ivan Wu at 


SEPTEMBER 19, 2023