Big Splash presents big opportunity for Bears
Friday, April 15, 2011
Category: Sports > Spring > Water Polo (Women's)
Previewing this year's Big Splash, Cal coach Richard Corso traded his whiteboard and whistle for a stethoscope.
"If you have to wait to be fired up to play Stanford, then there's something critically wrong with you," Corso said.
Considering the stakes, his diagnosis is tough to dispute.
Saturday's 7 p.m. tilt at Spieker Aquatics Center features a 1-2 showdown and the conference tournament's No. 1 seed at stake. The top-ranked Cardinal (21-0, 5-0 in the MPSF) roll into Berkeley this weekend with hopes of an undefeated regular season, while Corso's young upstarts can punctuate a banner campaign and earn the school's first ever No. 1 national ranking in the NCAA era.
"To be in this kind of position is fantastic with this kind of a team," Corso said. "They've got momentum, we've got momentum. It's just gonna be a lot of fun."
For Cal, this rivalry has been anything but fun as of late. The Bears (21-3, 6-0) have come up short in 29 straight matchups, heading back to 2000, and few defeats have been more painful than the two suffered last spring. Last year's installment of the Big Splash came down to the final five seconds, as Jessica Steffens beat Cal goalie Stephanie Peckham to break a 7-7 deadlock on the Farm.
"I don't think we played physical enough of defense. In that kind of situation, there's a limited amount of rules," Corso said. "They set a couple of picks, got an outside shot and we sat back. When you're in that situation, if you have to, you take an exclusion.
"The girls that were on last year's team, they still remember that and that was a terrible taste."
The following month, the Cardinal posted a second-half shutout in the national semifinals to keep Cal from its first-ever NCAA title game. Defensive intensity was no issue for the Bears, who didn't allow a single six-on-five goal and turned in one of their finest performances of the season.
That effort, however, was not enough to overcome the loss of three ejected players - including seniors Meghan Corso and Stephanie Schnugg.
"I thought it was unjust," the Bears' coach said. "I just didn't agree with the calls. I didn't agree the way the tempo of the game was played."
The Cardinal returns six of its top eight scorers from last year's national runner-up squad, led by centers Melissa Seidemann and Annika Dries. At the other end of the pool, a goal-keeping tandem of sophomore Kate Baldoni and senior Amber Oland anchors the MPSF's stingiest defense - the only unit in the conference that allows less than five goals per contest.
"They have strength at every position - their goalies, their sets, their guards," Corso said. "Nobody wants to have an off day (against them)."
Ed Yevelev covers women's water polo. Contact him at [email protected]
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