Big Splash Victory Marks First Perfect MPSF Run Since 1992

Michael Restrepo/Staff

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Football fans, take solace in Cal water polo's success at defending its domain.

On Friday, the No. 1 Bears stayed cool and composed down the stretch to secure a 9-6 victory over the fifth-ranked Cardinal. In front of a sizable crowd at Spieker Aquatics Complex, Cal (21-2, 8-0 in the MPSF) broke a five-year losing streak in the Big Splash to reclaim the Steve Heaston Trophy, going undefeated in conference play for the first time in since 1992 .

In the fourth quarter of a back-and-forth affair, junior Luka Saponjic whipped in an incredible backhanded goal from far out that skipped and sailed over the head of surprised Cardinal goalie Brian Pingree.

Emotions ran as wild as the turbulent rain that evening, with a group of Stanford fans singling out Saponjic as a target for heckling.

Saponjic let his game do the talking, though. His goal put Cal up, 8-6, with 2:46 left in the game, pumping up the crowd and eliminating any hopes Stanford (13-7, 5-3) had of rallying its way back.

"Luka's shot was pretty spectacular, those are the shots you screw around with in practice and it came through," Bears head coach Kirk Everist said. "I wouldn't want to live and die on that, wouldn't want to put my paycheck and mortgage on that thing, but I'll take it for this week."

Saponjic's goal forced the Cardinal to be aggressive and move its goalie out of the cage to catalyze the offense.

The gamble backfired. Senior Brian Dudley fired the ball at a wide open goal from half-tank, landing it right in front of its destination.

The momentum from the throw slowly drifted the ball into the cage to make it 9-6 with 43 seconds left, as if taunting the racing Pingree, who couldn't reach it quite in time.

Despite the high-octane flow, the steam from the cold slowed down the pace of the game. The players' visions were limited, forcing them to be more conservative and avoid cross-pool passes.

"Being on deck you can see things but in the water it's worse, you see silhouettes but you don't know if it's your guy or the other guy," Everist said. "It makes it a little helter skelter out there but both teams are playing in the same pool, everybody's got to deal with it."

Cal's sophomore goalkeeper Justin Parsons seemed unaffected, however. He had nine saves, some of which were impressively acrobatic, including four big ones in the fourth quarter to stop Stanford's attempt at a late rally.

With the win, the Bears also secured the top overall seed in the upcoming MPSF tournament.


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

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