Bears face Aztecs to open MPSF tournament

Allyse Bacharach/Staff

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Just how dominant is the MPSF in women's water polo?

Forget that the conference has won every national title since the sport's first NCAA season in 2001. Or that only one non-MPSF team - Loyola Marymount in 2004 - has made the championship game during that span. And the league's virtual monopoly of the top five in the national rankings is a given.

But after Tuesday's practice, Cal coach Rich Corso found a new superlative.

"The MPSF, between the ages of 18 and 21, is the best conference in the world," Corso said.

"It's better than anyone in Italy, it's better than the Dutch league, and it sure as heck is better than the Russian league ... or the Hungarian league.

"Pound for pound, this is a great conference."

The No. 2 Bears' three-day quest to sit atop that world-class talent begins with today's 10 a.m. MPSF tournament opener. With eight familiar teams all scrambling for four NCAA tournament spots - an automatic berth for the winner and three at-large spots are at stake at San Jose State Aquatics Center - Cal (21-4, 6-1 in the MPSF) should face its fiercest competition of the year this weekend.

"You don't win, you go home," Corso said. "Everyone's going to throw everything at you."

That certainly includes No. 9 San Diego State. The Bears' opening round opponent provides a perfect example of the MPSF's depth. Seeded seventh in the tournament, the Aztecs (20-12, 1-6) have been on the outside looking in when it comes to postseason aspirations.

That hasn't stopped them from taking it to Cal, however.

San Diego State could not overcome six goals from Breda Vosters in the teams' April 9 meeting, but went toe-to-toe with Cal for the better part of three quarters at Spieker Aquatics Complex. Cal gave up its most goals of year in a wild 15-12 victory, and trailed 4-3 after the opening period.

"They always play up to their competition, they never play down," said freshman Ashley Young, who scored a hat trick in win. "They came out very strong against us, and it was kind of a news flash. A lot of us ... still remember how they came out so strong and were all fired up at our pool."

Should the Bears advance, it could set up an exciting 2-3 tilt against Hawaii. The two teams split their pair of regular season contests, with each club pulling out a one-goal victory. Then there's the possibility of a rematch with top-ranked Stanford in Sunday's championship.

For now, though, Cal's biggest concern is starting out strong in the first period today.

"(SDSU is) a good team," Corso said. "They love to shoot, they love to run and gun. We have to play a lot better defense, and then we have to take care of the ball."


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

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