Cal Topples Card in Semis, Falls in Final to 'SC

Photo: Junior Zach White scored four goals to lead Cal to victory over unbeaten Stanford in the semifinal game of the SoCal Invitational.
Lara Brucker/File
Junior Zach White scored four goals to lead Cal to victory over unbeaten Stanford in the semifinal game of the SoCal Invitational.

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The Weekend in Men's Water Polo

Jack Wang breaks down the Bears weekend at the SoCal Invitational, one that saw Cal defeat No. 1 Stanford and lose to the Trojans in the championship match.

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As the No. 4 Cal men's water polo team prepared for the SoCal Invitational after losing three of its past four games, coach Kirk Everist knew exactly what had it had to fix.

"We've had some issues with gluts of not scoring goals," he said. "We've got to figure out how to finish. That's going to be key for the weekend."

The Bears (11-4, 0-1 in the MPSF) certainly did that on their way to a second-place tournament finish at UC Irvine yesterday, handing top-ranked Stanford (12-1, 1-0) its first loss of the year in yesterday's 10-8 semifinal upset.

"It was the best effort we've seen all year," senior co-captain Spencer Warden said. "We played really well together and we won."

After struggling to capitalize on offensive opportunities in past weeks, Cal jumped out to a 4-2 halftime lead against the Cardinal. Consecutive goals early in the fourth quarter put the Bears at a 9-6 advantage they didn't squander.

Zach White led the team's six scorers with four goals, matching his output in Saturday's 9-8 win over No. 5 Loyola Marymount. Senior co-captain Mike Sample added two more.

"There's different people scoring the ball," Warden said. "We can't have one or two or three guys scoring. We need everybody contributing and that's what happened this weekend."

The performance was stark contrast to Cal's early-season trend of falling behind against top teams. In its first matchup with Stanford three weeks ago, the team faced a three-goal deficit going into the fourth quarter before losing 8-7.

"A lot of it is confidence," White said of the team's previous shooting woes. "Guys just need to be more confident against good teams."

Wil Toppen also stepped up in the cage to back up the team's solid play on defense, making 14 blocks to the 15 recorded by Stanford All-American Jimmie Sandman.

But although the win snapped a three-game losing streak to the Cardinal, it cost the Bears depth in the championship match. White and sophomore Cory Nasoff both suffered concussions against Stanford, keeping them on the bench for the day.

Without two of their starters, the Bears lost 7-6 to No. 3 USC (16-1, 3-0), giving the Trojan's their seventh consecutive championship in the SoCal Invite. Cal's last goal came from sophomore Luka Saponjic, who scored on a 6-on-5 with 25 seconds left in the game.

The left-handed attacker also played a big role in his first tournament this season, scoring a hat trick against No. 13 Pacific in the opening round of the tournament. Saponjic, who sat out the first 10 games with a shoulder injury, finished the weekend with six goals.

"I think it's going to bother him for a while, but he's comfortable with the fact that it's going to bother him for a little bit," Everist said. "The next thing is to get his physical conditioning back."


Contact Jack Wang at

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