Water Polo: Quest For NCAA Championship Thwarted By Long Beach State

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All hopes of the No. 4 Cal women's water polo team making a NCAA berth were aborted almost as quickly as they were conceived.

The fourth-seeded Bears lost their very first match, quickly eliminating them from contention in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation League Tournament at USC last weekend.

After enjoying previous success against No. 5 Long Beach State, Cal (18-8) found itself down early and often.

The Bears played an altogether sluggish match, missing out on numerous scoring opportunities and allowing easy goals.

Still, Cal found its game, clawing back in late, but the rally fell short.

The 8-7 loss to underdog Long Beach ended any chances of claiming the most coveted league title in the nation.

"We probably played our worst game of the season," Cal coach Peter Asch said. "If we hadn't have made the mistakes we usually don't make, we win going away. It was just one of those things."

Cal started slow again versus No. 8 Hawaii a day after their unexpected drop into the consolation bracket.

The Bears opened the game by falling behind 2-0, and were tied at 3-3 in the third period.

Only this time, Cal managed to come back successfully in the second half to take the victory, 6-4, and move on to the fifth-place match.

The Bears ability to advance was a result of more heart and raw talent than crisp execution.

In its final game of the season, Cal pulled out another gritty victory led by the departing seniors Brenna Fleener and Julia Cesnik, who each scored a goal in overtime to defeat No. 6 San Jose State 8-6.

"I'm very proud of the fact that they did come back and win their next two games-they showed a lot of heart and determination," Asch said. "The underclassmen really wanted to make sure our seniors went out as winners. They did an excellent job and went away on a winning note."

Ultimately, No. 3 UCLA defeated No. 1 Stanford in a close final to claim the MPSF title and win an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.

Cal could still make the tournament with the at-large bid, however, it will most likely be awarded to the higher-ranked Cardinal.

Going into the offseason, the Bears will have to learn to play in the absence of their senior stars, which holds true for sophomore Ericka Lorenz, who missed the entire tournament with a back injury sustained during an earlier workout.

Despite a sour end to the season, the Bears season should be considered a success, especially after scouting reports in the beginning of the season predicted a weaker season than what is considered par for Cal.

Asch, who will now head the men's water polo team, is very happy with the team's performance, even if the outcome was far from what Cal desired in the start of the season.

"I have been extremely proud of them all season," Asch said.


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