Hawaiian Trip All Business for Bears

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An April trip to Hawaii would be a second spring break for most Cal students - not for the women's water polo team.

"No, I think it's just like a business trip," Bears driver Libby McLaren said. "We're there to win, and ... come home."

Cal's objective is clear at Duke Kahanamoku Aquatics Complex in Honolulu: upend the fifth-ranked Rainbow Wahine (13-5, 3-1 in the MPSF), and continue exceeding expectations in what was supposed to be a rebuilding campaign.

Just last spring, the Bears took third place in the NCAAs to cap off the best season in program history.

This year, Cal (19-3, 4-0) is off to an even better start.

Boasting back-to-back victories over USC and UCLA - the past two national champions - the Bears are No. 2 in the country for the first time since 2001 and a win in Saturday's 7 p.m. PT matchup would give them their first ever 5-0 start in MSPF play.

Most impressively, Cal has enjoyed this success while relying primarily on freshmen and sophomores on offense. The Bears lost six seniors - and nearly half the team's scoring from 2010 - while leading scorer Emily Csikos played sparingly at the start of spring as she recovered from hip surgery.

"We have a younger group of girls, a lot who haven't played much last year," assistant coach Matt Flesher said. "It took a long time, and I think we're still on the path, just with everyone getting comfortable with their roles. Everyone was kind of treading very softly at the beginning."

The team has certainly come of age as of late. Breda Vosters has emerged as Cal's leading scorer this spring with 45 goals, complemented by fellow sophomore Dana Ochsner (31 goals). The most pleasant surprises are freshmen Ashley Young and Kelly Mendoza, who have combined for 50 scores on the season.

The Bears' youth has also brought an infusion of athleticism to the roster, resulting in a more fast-paced attack.

"In the transition game and fast break offense, it's a little more exciting this year," Flesher said. "We have a smaller team in size, but we're a little quicker."

In contrast, the Rainbow Wahine, who have taken three straight in the series at home, bring much more experience and size to the pool - their two top shooters, Carmen and Monika Eggens, are both upperclassmen who stand at 6-feet or taller. The Bears must also contain 5-foot-10 center Leonie Van Der Molen, who racked up a pair of scores during Hawaii's 6-5 win over Cal in February's UCI Invitational.

"Our goal is to not let them score out of set," McLaren said. "What we didn't have then that we have now is an enthusiasm and a drive to win. That game, we were just going through the motions. We did what we had to do, but (were) really just lacking intensity."


Ed Yevelev covers women's water polo. Contact him at [email protected]

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