Top-Ranked Cal Hosts NorCal Invitational, Sinks to Third

Photo: Giacomo Cupido has provided Cal with athleticism on the defensive end in his freshman campaign. The Italian has a pair of goals on the season.
Kellen Freeman/Photo
Giacomo Cupido has provided Cal with athleticism on the defensive end in his freshman campaign. The Italian has a pair of goals on the season.

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The NorCal Invitational should retroactively be named the SoCal Invitational considering that the finals featured the USC-UCLA rivalry. The Trojans scored the go-ahead goal with four seconds left to seal the championship, 11-10, yesterday evening.

No. 1 Cal (5-1) fell in the semifinals to No. 4 USC by a single goal, 12-11, but went on to win the third-place game 11-8 against Stanford.

The pivotal game was an almost epic comeback story. The Bears were down 5-10 in the third quarter before staging a 5-0 rally in under five minutes, tying it up at 10 goals apiece.

"The guys really fought back and played with a lot of heart in the second half," coach Kirk Everist said. "(It) was unconventional, frantic water polo."

While the Bears matchup against the Trojans wasn't Cal's brightest point in the tournament, it was the most telling. The freshman squad rose to the occasion of the season's first true test.

"We had a lot of big moments from our younger guys," Everist said.

Among those mentioned were freshmen Giacomo Cupido and Perry Short, who contributed to the 5-0 run against USC.

"(Cupido) is extremely athletic, it'll take a while for people to adjust to how he plays," Everist said. "He gave us a good two meter (defense) and got a lot of ejections so I was happy with the way he played."

Additionally, the win that got away against the Trojans forces Cal to focus on the areas in which it was lacking.

One of these fields is drawing ejections. Seven of USC's 12 goals came off of power plays and it drew seven ejections before the Bears earned one.

"We didn't get very many calls, but some of that we have to look and see how we're playing," Everist said. "We have to figure out what we're not doing."

The other major aspect of the game Cal must refine is its defense, closing out the nooks and crannies of its cage.

"They're big guys, when they get up high in the water that cage gets real small," Everist said of his team. "(Sunday morning against USC) they were low and there were a lot of holes."

Despite how close the Bears were to defeating the tournament champion Trojans in the semifinals, they have yet to reach their full potential.

According to Everist, the underclassmen are only improving and time will improve team chemistry.

"We're not nearly as good a team as we'll be at the end of the year," he said.

Cal's Saturday schedule of the tournament was, unsurprisingly, a breeze.

It treaded past Pomona 8-2 in the first quarter before switching to extended garbage time mode en route a 17-8 victory. 27 Bears played throughout the game, including four different goalies.

Later in the day against No. 9 Pepperdine, the score was tied up at four at the end of the first quarter. Cal then held the Waves to two goals compared with its 11 the rest of the way.


Byron Atashian covers men's water polo. Contact him at [email protected]

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