Bears Swim Away From Waves in Second Half

Photo: <b>Luka Saponjic</b> notched a hat trick in the Bears' victory over Pepperdine on Saturday at Spieker Aquatics Complex.
Anna Hiatt/Staff
Luka Saponjic notched a hat trick in the Bears' victory over Pepperdine on Saturday at Spieker Aquatics Complex.

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Pepperdine 7
Cal 13

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Roughly six meters out from the cage, Brian Dudley faked three times before rolling the ball off his fingertips into a high-arcing rainbow of a lob.

As the shot dropped in softly over goalkeeper Tommy O'Connell, the Cal men's water polo team gained its first lead over Pepperdine last Saturday, a 7-6 advantage less than two minutes into the second half.

The No. 2 Bears (14-4, 2-1 in the MPSF) only tightened their chokehold from there, outscoring the fifth-ranked Waves by five the rest of the way after a first half of evenly exchanging goals at Spieker Aquatics Complex -- a fiery run which eased the team to a comfortable 13-7 score in its second conference win.

"Water polo's four quarters, it's not a half," sophomore Cory Nasoff said. "I think in the first half they were firing and they came out with a lot of energy and we stayed with it. In the second half, they died off and we stayed with our energy. We have more depth than they do."

Cal's superior depth showed as it began to lock down on a tiring Pepperdine squad and pick off steals for more opportunities on the opposite end, where sophomore Luka Saponjic led with a hat trick.

"It's a physical game," Nasoff said. "If we're able to push them around, then they're going to be a little scared, they're a little on their heels, and then that's when we get their steals."

The Bears also benefited from their familiarity with the Waves' personnel, targeting their defense on All-American J.P. MacDonell, center Clayton Snyder and attacker Andrew Milcovich.

"We did a good job of shutting (them) down trying to force somebody else to beat us," coach Kirk Everist said. "That worked out pretty good."

"Pretty good" may be a bit of an understatement. MacDonell scored just once on a five-meter penalty, while Snyder and Milcovich never found the back of the cage.

That Cal was still tied at halftime can also be partially credited to the Waves' five-man defense, which limited the Bears to just 2-for-8 on 6-on-5s. Pepperdine (7-9, 1-3) dropped back its players after incurring ejections, filling the front of the cage with defenders.

"(We were) trying to throw it through, and chances are if you try and throw it harder, (the defenders) are going to get a hand on it as opposed to really methodically finding (holes) and sometimes going underneath armpits," Everist said. "They did a good job of getting their hands on balls; we were having trouble getting it to the goalie."

The Bears also had trouble generating opportunities as a team early on, relying on winning individual matchups to put up points rather than using the team-oriented offense that emerged as they pulled away in the second half.

"We were doing individual stuff to keep us in the game and that was important for us to get those goals, but it wasn't a full, multiple-player attack," Everist said. "I think that's part of what really struggled in the first half, for sure."


Contact Jack Wang at [email protected]

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