Cal Upsets Card in Semis But Falls in Final

Photo: Attacker Ivan Rackov scored four goals in the MPSF tournament, including a hat trick in the Bears' upset victory over the Cardinal.
Anna Hiatt/File
Attacker Ivan Rackov scored four goals in the MPSF tournament, including a hat trick in the Bears' upset victory over the Cardinal.

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LOS ANGELES-It was still early in the third quarter when the UCLA men's water polo team lost its best player. A scuffle had resulted in an ejection from the MPSF title game for leading scorer Scott Davidson and a five-meter penalty shot for Cal.

As Ivan Rackov lined up for the attempt, the No. 3 Bears were poised to take a two-goal lead in a match that came with an automatic NCAA championship berth.

But goalkeeper Chay Lapin reeled in the ball, the fourth-ranked Bruins scored the next four goals and Cal's season ended in a 10-7 loss at McDonald's Swim Stadium.

"We never really recovered from that," junior Zach White said.

After fighting back from deficits in the first two rounds of the MPSF tournament-including Saturday's 12-11 overtime thriller over No. 2 Stanford-the Bears' third try at a comeback fell short as they lapsed into bouts of offensive inefficiency.

With its shots often glancing off both the defenders' arms and the cage's bars, Cal (22-6, 6-2 in the MPSF) failed to capitalize on its opportunities.

"We didn't really play like a team," said White, who led the team with a hat trick. "We were kind of impatient. Second half (against the Cardinal), we were really patient, guys were taking their time looking for each other. Today we were just shooting, bad passing, no patience."

The Cal offense looked static at times against a Bruins (21-6, 5-3) defense that had stifled top-ranked USC a day earlier in a 10-6 upset-UCLA's largest margin of victory over its rival since 1989. Rather than the fluid passes that were characteristic of recent weeks, the Bears often held onto the ball before missing from outside.

After sophomores Luka Saponjic and Charlie Steffens-both of whom play the right side of the pool-were ejected with three penalties in the second half, Cal had even fewer threats from outside.

"They were packed in there," coach Kirk Everist said of the Bruins' defenders. "'SC had all sorts of problems with it yesterday, and we certainly had problems with it today. You had to solve it. You had to solve their pack-in defense and get the ball through the goalie and we didn't do that enough."

The Bears also began to miss defensive assignments late in the game, allowing wide-open goals that undermined any gains they made on the scoreboard.

In Davidson's absence, UCLA freshman Josh Samuels led the team's seven scorers with his second career hat trick.

The final score sent the Bruins to the NCAA championship in Princeton, N.J., next weekend along with CWPA and WWPA champions Princeton and Loyola Marymount.

The Trojans (24-2, 8-0) secured the at-large bid after defeating the Cardinal (21-4, 7-1) in the third-place game, 9-7.

"It's a disappointing loss, and I think it's going to chew at us for a while," Everist said.

Tags: CAL MEN'S WATER POLO, KIRK EVERIST, SPENCER WARDEN, MPSF TOURNAMENT


Contact Jack Wang at [email protected]



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