Toppen a Force in the Cage In First Year as Cal Starter

Photo: Goalkeeper Wil Toppen has started 15 games at goalie for the Bears this season. Toppen currently leads the squad with 116 saves and also has 16 steals and six assists on the year.
Victoria Chow/File
Goalkeeper Wil Toppen has started 15 games at goalie for the Bears this season. Toppen currently leads the squad with 116 saves and also has 16 steals and six assists on the year.

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Before every home game, the Cal men's water polo team stands along the edge of the water at Spieker Aquatics Complex, waiting as each name on the roster is called.

Look down that line and you'll notice that one of the shortest players wears a red cap-unusual considering that the color is only worn by the goalie, often the team's tallest position. But sophomore Wil Toppen measures at about six feet-perhaps a half-inch or so more-a height dwarfed by top goalkeepers who often stand a full four or five inches above him.

Yet, when the second-ranked Bears (18-4, 5-1 in the MPSF) close out their home schedule against Pacific at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow, Toppen will likely be making his 15th start of the season.

After beating out former starter Jacob McIntosh for the top spot back in September's NorCal Invitational, he has provided Cal with a steady presence in the cage.

"He's played really consistent and allowed us to become a really solid defensive team, adjusted to the defense that we have and helped bail us out when we make mistakes," coach Kirk Everist said. "His confidence level is definitely at a different place than at the beginning of the year when he was fighting for the spot."

And at fourth in conference in saves per game, it doesn't appear as if his size has been a problem.

"He plays a lot bigger in the cage than he would look standing on the deck," Everist said. "His anticipation is good so he can get to the shots that you might not think are going to be there. A guy that's small and agile, you've got a better chance at that because things are coming quick."

Toppen's skills were on full display four weeks ago in a crucial MPSF match-up against No. 4 UCLA (18-6, 4-3). The lefty made nine blocks as Cal edged the Bruins, 7-6, in Los Angeles, a performance which earned him MPSF Player of the Week.

Despite his success, however, Toppen hasn't held a monopoly on playing time. Justin Parsons, the only freshman to not redshirt, has made three starts this season-including one against the Tigers (12-13, 0-6). If Toppen struggles, the 6-foot-5 youngster is always ready to see some minutes.

"It's like having a gun to your head. It really is," Toppen said. "It's constantly, looking back and seeing if he's stretching. If you let a goal in, if he's like getting up and getting ready to warm up."

The incumbent may be worrying a little too much. All of Parsons' starts have come against weaker competition, and with a Sunday trip to No. 13 Santa Clara (17-10) at 12 p.m., both of them will make some saves this weekend.


Contact Jack Wang at [email protected]

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