Cal Aims to End Five-Year Big Splash Drought Against Card

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Big Splash Preview

Byron Atashian previews tonight's "Big Splash" between Cal and Stanford at 6 p.m. at Spieker Aquatics Complex.

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The No. 1 Cal men's water polo team (20-2, 7-0 MPSF) dives into its final match of the season, against Bay Area rival No. 5 Stanford (13-6, 5-2 MPSF) tonight at Spieker Complex at 6 p.m.

The two teams have played twice before this season, both times resulting in a win for the Bears.

The first time was an 11-8 victory for the third place title of the NorCal Tournament on Sept. 19 and the second time was a 13-9 win for the fifth place finish in the SoCal Tournament on Oct. 3.

A lot can change in a month and a half, however.

"I think we're both different teams than we were the last time we played," Cal head coach Kirk Everist said.

The circumstances are also different since both encounters were the final games of a tournament while today's game is the only one of the weekend.

"Those (were) hard games, mentally, sometimes physically, don't want to put too much stock in (it)," Everist said. "They're going to be fresh and ready to go (today), they're a really mobile, fast, athletic team."

The Cardinal generally relies on their quickness to get by opponents and mainly focuses on cutting with its drivers to throw off the defense.

Junior Jacob Smith is a big part of the Stanford offense as a driver averaging 2.42 goals per game, third in the MPSF.

Sophomore Paul Rudolph, who scored four goals against Pacific last weekend, and Senior Sage Wright are two more influential drivers centered around big man Jeffrey Schwimer swimming in the middle.

Cal's veteran squad, although more experienced, is bigger and slower. As a result, the Bears may have to play some of their cubs.

"Some of it depends on how the game is flowing, Matt Golden, Hunter Gettelfinger, and Collin Smith really address that (speed) issue," Everist said. "(The younger guys) helped us out in a lot of games, it's allowed us to have a different look."

The outcome of the game won't shake Cal's seeding at No. 1, but could affect the postseason in a certain situation.

Only the winner of the conference tournament is guaranteed a spot in the NCAAs, while one other team gets an at-large bid. Because Cal and USC have comparable records, in the case where neither team wins the conference tournament, they would vie for the at-large bid.

The Bears have to stay on top of their game so they don't jeopardize a season's worth of hard work. Even though the situation where Cal doesn't move on to the NCAAs is unlikely, winning is more important in terms of keeping its performance tight, polished and ready to peak in the postseason.

Both the Bears and the Cardinal faced a worthy adversary in No. 6 Pacific last weekend. While Cal won 10-8 and Stanford lost 10-9, both matches were extremely close with the Tigers coming down the final stretch.


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

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