Cal Scores Upset Win in MPSF Opener

Photo: Junior Luka Saponjic notched a pair of goals in Cal's 11-8 win over UCLA. He scored once in the Bears' season-ending loss to the Bruins last fall in the MPSF semifinals.
Michael Restrepo/Staff
Junior Luka Saponjic notched a pair of goals in Cal's 11-8 win over UCLA. He scored once in the Bears' season-ending loss to the Bruins last fall in the MPSF semifinals.

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The No. 4 Cal men's water polo had the same kind of enthusiasm and support as Cal football against No. 2 UCLA on Saturday. Although Spieker Aquatics Complex was a much smaller venue, the stands were packed, the Bears were hyping up the crowd and their caped women's counterpart coordinated a halftime "Thriller" dance.

It had the same victorious outcome as well, edging the Bruins, 11-8.

UCLA was ahead at the end of the first quarter with a score of 4-2 before Cal clicked.

"We scuffled in the first quarter and I think that's when we really rushed ourselves," Bears coach Kirk Everist said. "We tried to take the first thing that was there instead of moving the ball. Once we changed that in the second, third, and fourth quarters we were pretty successful."

Cal's (11-2, 1-0 in the MPSF) first-quarter haste was evident; it failed to convert on its two 6-on-5 power plays. However, it capitalized on five of the six throughout the rest of the game.

The Bears came roaring back in the second quarter, holding the Bruins scoreless while they clocked in three goals to take the lead at 5-4.

They continued the run by scoring the first two goals of the third quarter as well, taking and keeping control of the game at 7-4 over UCLA (9-3, 1-1).

Senior Zach White and juniors Luka Saponjic and Ivan Rackov scored big goals for their team down the stretch on the way to the win.

A stifling defensive performance, which included 13 saves by goalkeeper Justin Parsons, also anchored Cal in its first meeting with UCLA this fall. A deflating 10-7 loss to the Bruins in the MPSF finals last season ended the Bears' season and denied them a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

"(UCLA-Cal) is a big rivalry, a lot of national championships, a lot of success at both programs," Everist said. "You don't need any more incentive to beat a team because they beat you last year."

The win was an encouraging showing for a squad that was a preseason favorite for the national title, but fell to then-No. 5 UC Irvine earlier this month.

Another key to the win that has been a theme for the Bears in the last few weeks is communication.

"The difference is between talking and yelling," Everist said. "It's natural when you get amped up, your cadence and your tone changes and that can be the difference between making someone confident and making someone nervous."

"Talking our way through the game breeds a lot of confidence."

The impact is even more pronounced among the younger players who don't yet have the experience of their teammates. Freshman Max Bergeson, for example, chipped in two goals in his first multiple-score outing since Sept. 5.

"It's a work in progress but they're getting there, I think we've come a long way over the last couple weeks," Everist said. "For the most part they did a good job."


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

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