Cal Targets First NCAA Berth Since 2007

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It's the postseason. This is where boys become men.

The Cal men's water polo team has done the work. Going 21-2 and staying undefeated at 8-0 in the MPSF conference for the first time in 18 years, the Bears close the season at No. 1 in a prime position to take the championship with the easiest route there.

Cal opens the tournament against No. 8 Pepperdine (9-15, 1-7) at Avery Aquatics Center on Friday, Nov. 26 at 10 a.m. in Stanford, Calif.

The Bears haven't had much trouble against the Waves this season. They finished 15-6 on Sept. 18 at the NorCal Invitational and 18-7 on Oct. 31 in an MPSF match in Malibu.

In the likely event of yet another win, the next day Cal will face the winner of the Stanford-UCI match.

"They're both good teams and they've both given us trouble this year, so we have to beat who we have to beat," coach Kirk Everist said. "If we play well, I'll take my chances, if we come out and play well, we're pretty confident we'll be successful."

Although the big four names in water polo are and have been Cal, UCLA, USC and Stanford, the gap between the first- and second-tier teams seems to have narrowed.

UCI, Pacific and UCSB have all pulled off an upset in the season and come close to several more. UCI surprised the Bears 9-8, Pacific stumped Stanford 10-9, and UCSB also stopped the Cardinal 12-10.

"We want to make somebody beat us and not just play poorly and hand it to somebody," Everist said. "If somebody wants to come out and beat us they're really going to have to work at it, we want to make somebody really earn it."

Cal could face a wide variety of styles throughout the tournament, ranging from Stanford's speed and quickness to Irvine's physicality to USC's football-like emphasis on running set plays.

"That's what makes it interesting, you can't really just prepare for three teams assuming each one will win their game because you just don't know," senior Zach White said.

The other side of the bracket pits No. 2 USC against No. 7 UCSB and No. 3 UCLA against No. 6 Pacific.

The Bruins ended the Bears' season in last year's semifinal game with a 10-7 win.

On the possibility of facing his brother Griffin on UCLA's squad, White said, "That'd be fun because we'd get some revenge after he knocked off the end of my season last year."

"I could potentially end his season because UCLA has to win to move on to NCAAs," he added.

Two of the eight teams in the MPSF conference tournament get a shot at the NCAA title: the winner and the recipient of an at-large bid.

Even if the Bears don't win the tournament, they will probably get the at-large bid due to their record. The only situation where an at-large bid is not so certain is if the Trojans also don't win the tournament because both teams have similar records.


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

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