Bears, Bruins Meet at Last in Berkeley

Photo: Junior Ivan Rackov leads the Bears in three major statistical category this season. He has a team-best 33 goals, 30 steals and 28 assists in the 11 matches he has played.
Allyse Bacharach/File
Junior Ivan Rackov leads the Bears in three major statistical category this season. He has a team-best 33 goals, 30 steals and 28 assists in the 11 matches he has played.

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The No. 3 Cal men's water polo team finally faces No. 2 UCLA, the only MPSF powerhouse it hasn't crossed paths with yet this season, this Saturday at 10 a.m., in Spieker Aquatics Complex.

"Communication is going to be really important for us this weekend to beat UCLA," coach Kirk Everist said.

Cal (10-2) seeks to continue its resurgence on day two of last week's SoCal Tournament into the contest with the Bruins. While the Bears were toppled by Irvine on day one, a noticeable change occurred the next day.

"The difference between their energy and synchronicity from Saturday to Sunday was just night and day," Everist said. "We're hoping we gleaned from (last) weekend how well we can play for each other, not just with each other."

The intense teamwork responsible for the shift in gears led to day two stomps on Pacific and Stanford of 15-3 and 13-9, respectively. Pacific's game against UCLA (8-2) last weekend was a much closer 13-11 loss.

While there is no transitive property in water polo that can accurately predict the outcome of games, it's clear that Cal can conquer very capable teams if it continues to click.

"I'm hoping they saw that it's not daunting to talk and play and communicate at the same time, and how much easier it made the game for them," Everist said. "They were making the offense think about multiple things which leads to mistakes and hopefully, they can continue down that road."

Another key to Saturday's showdown will be successfully mixing the veteran Bears with the cubs.

"UCLA's team is generally built around good team speed," Everist said. "When we've struggled with them over the last few years it's been because of their speed, swimming our centers and getting advantages out of that."

Cal's offseason recruiting efforts have taken measures to counteract that weakness. Collin Smith, Matt Golden and Hunter Gettelfinger are among the new additions who have a lot of end-to-end speed, according to Everist.

Thus far, the Bears more often than not group the veterans into one unit and the younger players into another, substituting the entire or almost the full squads for each other.

While it's critical to have experienced players in the pool who may be slower, they must be balanced with the youth able to get back quickly in transition.

"By chasing, you create instabilities in your defense once you get into the half court," Everist said. "That's going be really important that we can establish defense and not be scrambling all the time."

Both of the Bruins' losses this season have come in the championship matches of the NorCal and SoCal Tournaments and both times were by a single goal against No. 1 USC.

"It'll be a challenge for our guys for sure," Everist said.


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

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