Men's Polo Faces No. 1 USC and Physical Pacific





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The men's collegiate water polo rankings are reported at www.usawaterpolo.com. Chances are, if you check the progress of the nation's best water polo teams from week to week, there won't be much in the way of consistency.

After only four weeks of play, and four different national rankings, No. 4 Cal, No. 5 Stanford, No. 2 UCLA and No. 3 Irvine have each held four different spots amid the nation's top-5 teams. Over that stretch, three different teams have held the No. 1 spot.

The only little bit of consistency that might be found in the polls is that USC has held onto the No. 1 ranking for two consecutive weeks - which is a pretty big accomplishment considering the way the season has transpired. All this could change when the Bears host the Trojans at noon Sunday.

But before Cal (4-3 overall, 1-0 MPSF) takes on USC (8-0, 1-0), it will travel to Pacific to battle the No. 9 Tigers (3-6, 0-2) tomorrow.

Despite the Tigers' low ranking and poor record, the Pacific game is actually more important for the Bears because it is a conference match. How well Cal fares in conference play basically determines who goes to the NCAA tournament.

"We really want to win our conference games so that we have a good seed going into the conference tournament," senior co-captain James Lathrop said. "We didn't play our best game against (Pacific) last time. We need to look to control the ball and not turn it over. If we do that, play good defense and have a good counter-attack, we should be fine."

If Cal is able to put together a solid effort against Pacific, it really shouldn't have any problems recording a win. Even without playing a great game, the Bears chalked up a 12-8 victory over the Tigers three weeks ago.

In that game, junior two-meter man Mike West led Cal with five goals and senior driver Eldad Hazor contributed four. But the Bears' defense wasn't up to Cal coach Peter Asch's standards.

"We have got to play better defense," Asch said. "And we have to do it right off the bat. We let (Pacific) score six goals in the first half last time we played and we can't allow that to happen."

Despite Pacific's physical play, it is a team that lacks much in the way of speed. The Bears, on the other hand, pride themselves in their physical fitness and team speed, and will look to expose the Tigers' lack of speed tomorrow afternoon.

"(Pacific) plays real well as a team and they have a good coach," Lathrop said. "We know they'll be big, physical guys, we just need to counter-attack and use our speed to play our game."

After Cal finishes with the Tigers, it won't have much time to recuperate. USC, which takes on No. 5 Stanford tomorrow, may very well walk into Speiker Aquatic Center with an unblemished record Sunday.

The Trojans spent the summer recruiting a number of players from Europe, resulting in what seems to be a very talented team. Due to the number of new position players, the rest of the nation does not yet know what to expect from USC - but so far, no one has been able to find a way to slow down the Trojans.

"They play very patient water polo," Asch said. "They don't take any bad shots and they don't make any bad passes. By controlling the ball they don't let the other team counter-attack against them."

Freshman Pedrag Damjanov, who has recorded 11 goals thus far, leads USC. According to players, after watching the Trojans play in the Southern California Tournament two weeks ago, it is evident that USC is a team full of shooters - which means that the Cal goalies, sophomore Russell Bernstein and freshman Tim Kates, will have to be on their game.

"Russell has been playing really well," Lathrop said. "He always steps up and takes it to the next level in big games, and this weekend is definitely a couple of big games. And Tim has been playing well and will be ready to step in when we need him."

Tomorrow's game will take place at Chris Kjeldsen Pool in Stockton, and Sunday's game will be played at Speiker Aquatics Center, also at noon.

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