Cal men’s waterpolo to face toughest test of season

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So far this season, No. 4 Cal men’s water polo hasn’t really come across much of a challenge or threat. For the most part, the Bears (5-0) have kept their games free of drama. With the exception of a 9-6 win over No. 7 UC Santa Barbara, the Bears have demolished their opposition, beating the competition by an average of more than 10 goals per game.

Those one-sided blowouts will be much more difficult to come by this weekend as Cal travels to the University of the Pacific to participate in the Kap7 NorCal Classic Tournament. In this one, the Bears will nearly double the number of games played this season, as they will be looking at four games: two Saturday and two Sunday.

Unlike the Triton Invite Cal took part in two weeks ago, this weekend’s tournament will be busier and will feature higher-quality opponents. Featuring the best programs in the West, including every team ranked in the top 10 except No. 8 Princeton, this weekend at UOP will feature the mecca of elite water polo teams at the collegiate level. Although the Bears will be just one among a plethora of powerhouses in the tournament, they cannot worry about the other top teams. Entering the event, Cal’s first priority will be to lock in on each opponent, one at a time.

“We got to get through Saturday first,” said Cal head coach Kirk Everist. “The coaches are prepared for Stanford or USC or UCLA, but the players need to focus on the game at hand and the game in front of them. ”

The Bears’ first game will take place at 10:40 a.m. against No. 14 Santa Clara. Because the Kap7 is a multigame tournament, it is difficult for any team to settle in and commit to one specific game plan because they have to account for many different teams, all with a different style of play.

“I don’t have a whole lot of a scouting report on Santa Clara,” Everist said. “We know what they typically like to do and their talents. But we’re going to focus on, as we do in most games, executing our offense and defense, and the game will take care of itself.”

Barring any sort of upset, Cal should have no problems taking care of the Broncos and will likely advance to the quarterfinals to take on the “Game Eight” favorites — CSU Long Beach.

Ranked No. 5, Long Beach State will be the toughest competition the Bears have faced up to that point. If they advance further, they will likely face higher-ranked teams such as USC, Stanford and UCLA the next day, but Sunday’s matchups won’t be finalized until Saturday is finished. Labeled “Game 16,” the last match Saturday will start at 5:20 p.m. and will be an early test for Cal.

“They have good players at pretty much every position,” Everist said. “So that’s gonna be a really tough game if we win our first game. ”

If the Bears defeat Long Beach State and go deeper into the tournament, the competition will only get tougher, as the talent will narrow down until only the most elite of the elite are left.

Although the teams Cal will see Sunday will be tough to handle, the biggest challenge for the team will be maintaining a consistent and competent level of play throughout the entire weekend. Because of the extreme workload, the Bears will have to play it smart and rely on their bench to clock in.

“You got to have depth,” Everist said. “Because you’re going to have to play a meaningful game in the fourth game, you can’t ride them to death in games one, two and three. So you got to play things a little differently than you would in a one-game scenario.

With the number of games in addition to the competition itself, Cal is going to have its hands full this weekend. It’ll be challenging and exciting, but the Bears know that this tournament is a part of the process.

“We all like the competition,” Everist said. “The team’s excited to ratchet it up and get more competitive this weekend. It’ll be a good parameter and litmus test for us.”

Richard Lee covers men’s water polo. Contact him at richardlee@dailycal.org.

Read more here: http://www.dailycal.org/2014/09/18/cal-mens-waterpolo-face-toughest-test-season/
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