Huge Lead Dwindles for Cal in Win Over Broncos

Photo: <b>Senior captain Spencer Warden</b> scored two goals in the Cal men's water polo team's victory against Santa Clara on Sunday.
Victoria Chow/Staff
Senior captain Spencer Warden scored two goals in the Cal men's water polo team's victory against Santa Clara on Sunday.

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Santa Clara 9
Cal 13

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Keith Wilbur was about to boil over.

Frustrated with his team's abysmal play, the Santa Clara coach complained loudly about the officiating as the first half ticked away -- an outburst which incurred a stern warning from the referee.

But after the intermission, it was the Cal men's water polo team that looked like it was losing control.

After scoring the game's first eight goals to build an 8-1 lead at Spieker Aquatics Complex, the No. 2 Bears faltered on both offense and defense, holding on for a 13-9 win over the 16th-ranked Broncos.

A first half that more closely resembled a practice session than a non-conference game had relaxed Cal's sharp play. Gone were the easy goals and seemingly effortless steals which filled the first 16 minutes, replaced by an inability to both score and defend.

"When we went to the second half, we were ready to keep playing the same game," sophomore Charlie Steffens said. "But when you go up on someone, if they're a good team, they're going to come back hard, and they're going to start changing things up. We should've anticipated that and have been ready­ -- the phrase would be 'with our hips up' -- ready to defend that."

That the Bears weren't able to adjust to the Broncos' increased use of ball-side drives in the second half led to a flurry of goals. Santa Clara quickly exploited a defense that was sometimes slow to help, outscoring Cal, 8-5, in the second half.

On the attack, the Bears (13-4, 1-1 in the MPSF) unraveled as an offensive unit, going scoreless for over seven minutes after Luka Saponjic's goal on a five-meter penalty late in the third quarter. Just as on defense, Cal struggled to work as a cohesive team.

"If you can't be faking, passing, faking, passing -- getting the goalie tired with all your teammates as kind of one unit -- it's easy for the goalie to have a lot more energy when the shots come in," Steffens said.

The game came just two days after Cal edged UCLA for its first MPSF win, notching a 7-6 victory in front of a packed crowd at the Spieker Aquatics Center in Los Angeles. Following up a big win so soon may have contributed to the Bears' lack of focus against the Broncos.

But while Cal made its share of mistakes against Santa Clara (13-7), the letdown can serve as learning experience as the conference calendar progresses.

"We can look at it as a microcosm of what's going to happen the rest of the season," Steffens said. "Other teams are ... going to try and bring things at us that we're not ready for.

"If we just continue to anticipate that and keep our same work ethic, our same focus, I don't think there's any team that's going to be able to stop us when it comes to the end of the season."

Contact Jack Wang at [email protected]

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