Defense Will Be Key to Navigating Cutthroat MPSF Schedule





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The No. 4 Cal women's water polo team is no longer out of their league.

Tomorrow, the Bears (5-4) will face No. 12 Hawaii in their first Mountain Pacific Sports Federation conference matchup this season. The game will be the first of four straight home games for Cal.

The early schedules of both teams have precluded any real scouting between the two teams and will force them to rely on memories of past matches for any team-specific preparation.

"We really haven't seen them play (this season)," Cal coach Peter Asch said. "But we've played them in the past and we know that they are a tough team. They always come well-prepared."

Devoid of any particular strategy aimed at the Wahines (5-3), Cal has been focusing on a stronger defense that would in turn spur their offense.

Strengthening their counterattack includes a defense that aggressively presses out to eat up clock before the Wahines can get set. By delaying their opponents' two-meter hole set, Cal hopes to disrupt rhythm and open up scoring opportunities at the other end.

After finishing fourth in a strong field at the UC Santa Barbara Invitational, Cal will also try to improve its passing and take less ill-advised shots, problems that Asch blames for the Bears' failure to place last weekend.

But most of all, Cal will simply try to dictate the flow of the game.

"We're more concerned with looking at using our strengths rather than looking at their team," said Asch.

Friday will also mark the first action for Hawaii in two weeks.

Cal will look to cannonball the Wahines early on as they may spend the first period cleansing off the rust that accumulates with time away from competitive play. But Asch's experience tells him to use caution.

"Hawaii doesn't really have any weaknesses. After you play a bunch of matches, having two weeks off is a good thing."

Cal will have no time to rest, facing No. 3 USC (10-3, 2-0 in the MPSF) Saturday in another conference matchup. The Bears will have an opportunity to avenge last week's 9-4 loss to the Trojans, which didn't count in the conference standings.

At the beginning of the 2002 season, Asch is impressed with the performance and mindset of his team.

"As we start out league games, I think we've been working very hard and played well thus far," he said. "We had a couple of breakdowns last weekend where we just didn't convert on offensive opportunities, and so we're working to correct those things."

It will be crucial for Cal to play well this weekend and set the tone for how the MPSF will unfold.

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