Cal Looks to Dethrone Trojans in NCAA Tourney

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Cal hosts this year's NCAA men's water polo championship for the first time ever at Spieker Aquatics Complex this weekend, Dec. 4-5. The tournament follows a No. 1 vs. No. 4, No. 2 vs. No. 3 seeding format.

No. 1 USC

The two-time defending national champions secured automatic qualification for winning the MPSF tournament. In the finals, the Trojans edged out host Stanford 8-7 after going into overtime and two sudden-death periods. USC now stands at 26-2 overall.

The Trojans are known for their discipline, calling out plays for every possession much like a football team. They don't have one player with significantly more goals than the rest, yet their offense led the MPSF in goals per game with 13.28. That balance is precisely what makes them so hard to contain.

USC also has an outstanding goalie in junior Joel Dennerley, who was named MPSF Player of the Week twice. His 589 saves rank fourth all-time at USC.

No. 2 Cal

The Bears received the at-large position in the tournament due to their 23-3 overall, 8-0 MPSF record. Theirs was the strongest record besides USC's in the loaded MPSF conference and is responsible for one of USC's two losses.

It lays claim to 13 NCAA titles, the most out of any school in the nation. Two of those titles came in the consecutive years right before USC's latest back-to-back championships.

Junior Ivan Rackov is a large part of this season's success, leading the Bears in both goals and assists. He tops the MPSF with a three-goal per-game average.

Junior Justin Parsons took over as full-time goalie with the injury of Wil Toppen late in the season and really stepped into the role, averaging nine saves in the three games in the MPSF tournament.

No. 3 Loyola Marymount

The winner of the WWPA conference, the Lions' record now stands at 19-8.

They beat Davis 9-6 to get the automatic bid and have won their conference eight of the last 10 years, but haven't won the first round of NCAAs in that whole time. Goalie Andy Stevens made 11 saves in the win.

LMU lost 11-2 in its match against Cal earlier this season, so its chances don't look so good.

No. 4 St. Francis

The Terriers finished the season at No. 13, winning the CWPA conference over No. 18 Navy, 8-4.

The reality is St. Francis isn't in the same league as the rest of the NCAA competitors and water polo on the East Coast isn't nearly as competitive. A school from outside California has never advanced to the NCAA finals.

There's always a chance for the Terriers to rewrite history, but this season they have only beaten marginally competitive MPSF schools like UCSD and Pepperdine.


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

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