Lions and Bears, Oh My: Cal Looks to Fend Off LMU at Home

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`The No. 1 Cal men's water polo team (15-2, 4-0 in the MPSF) has a rare Thursday game against No. 9 Loyola Marymount tonight at 7 p.m. at Spieker Aquatics Complex.

"(Loyola Marymount) is similar to Irvine from a tactical standpoint," Cal head coach Kirk Everist said. "We can use a lot of the things we focused on against Irvine (last weekend) and try to build on it."

The transition offense that gave Cal the 18-9 victory over the Anteaters will come in handy again tonight against the Lions (12-7, 10-1 in the WWPA), who almost charged to the NCAA finals last year and are still much the same team due to a core set of returners.

"Traditionally, since they're in a different conference, pretty much everything comes down to the end of the season," Everist said.

"They tend to really peak at the end of the year, I'm assuming they're going to be tougher than they might have been earlier in the season."

Cal is hitting a high note as well, splashing its way to a still-floating seven game winning streak and getting major contributions from junior Ivan Rackov and senior Zach White.

Rackov, who lays claim to two of the last three MPSF Player of the Week awards, had a career-high six goals against UCI last Saturday. He leads the MPSF in scoring with an average of over three goals a game. The same vision that makes Rackov a tremendous shooter helps him average three assists a game.

White, the team leader with 27 drawn ejections on the season, catalyzes the offense with his presence inside. The ejections occasionally result in five meter penalty shots for Cal, which Rackov usually converts.

Additionally, juniors Corey Nasoff and goalie Wil Toppen returned to action recently.

"It's an emotional boost for us with Toppen being out for that long," Everist said. "We're excited to have him back, it helps to have that second goalie there."

Everist will give Nasoff rest when possible in preparation for the postseason when such luxuries can't be had.

The game against Loyola Marymount is only the start of a busy weekend that holds two more matches in store. Saturday and Sunday noon games at home against No. 6 UCSB (10-6, 1-2) and No. 8 Long Beach (7-10, 0-4), respectively, are both conference matches.

The Gauchos are responsible for a 12-10 upset over Stanford in the SoCal Tournament earlier this season. UCSB's Milos Golic earned the MPSF Player of the Week title two weeks ago, after notching a career-high tying seven goals in an 11-10 win over Long Beach. Golic follows close behind Rackov in scoring with 2.81 goals per game.

Both Rackov and Bears senior Luka Saponjic played on the same club team with Golic overseas in Serbia. The Gauchos have several other important international players, as well.

"We're going to have to concentrate on them, but not to the point where we're leaving other players," Everist said.

"Focus on them when it's the right time and play good team defense, we know they like to run a lot through those players as we do through Ivan."


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

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