Bears Head South For NCAA Championships
LOS ANGELES - The No. 2 California men's water polo team will make its first NCAA Championships appearance since 2017 this weekend and will get a first-round bye before advancing directly to the semifinals against the winner of the opening round matchup between USC and Bucknell.
The Bears (8-4) will play Saturday at 5 p.m. PT. The tournament is being held at USC's Uytengsu Aquatic Center. The championship game is slated for Sunday. The semifinals and finals will be streamed on NCAA.com.
The Bears have won 14 national championships, including their most recent title in 2016 when they defeated USC in overtime at Spieker Aquatics Complex. Cal fell to USC in the semifinals of the 2017 tournament.
LAST TIME OUT
The Bears defeated USC, 11-8, in the MPSF semifinals before falling to Stanford in the MPSF Championship game. The Bears made a tremendous comeback effort in the fourth quarter but ultimately fell short, losing to Stanford, 9-8.
Eight different players scored for the Bears in the match against the Cardinal, the team's most evenly distributed offensive effort of the season. Marko Valecic led all players with four points, scoring one goal and assisting on three others. Goalkeeper Adrian Weinberg recorded nine saves in the effort to hold the Stanford offense to a season-low nine goals.
Three members of the Bears were named to the 2021 MPSF All-Tournament Team as announced by the league office. Sophomore MPSF Player of the Year Nikolaos Papanikolaou, senior team captain Nikos Delagrammatikas and junior Jack Deely made the team, marking the first career all-tournament nod for each.
In Cal's two games during the tournament, Papanikolaou totaled two goals, seven drawn exclusions and three steals. He scored two goals and drew four exclusions in the Bears' semifinal win over USC.
Deely finished the weekend with six points, recording a game-high five points (one goal, four assists) in Saturday's win. Delagrammatikas scored once in the win.
Cal and Stanford led the conference with three players from each squad earning all-tournament honors.
Sophomore attacker Nikolaos Papanikolaou and head coach Kirk Everist highlighted California's All-MPSF honors, being named the conference's Player of the Year and Coach of the Year, respectively.
Now a two-time All-MPSF First Team selection, Papanikolaou is the youngest player to be named a First Team selection this season. He joins Ben Hallock (Stanford) as the only water polo players in MPSF history, across men's and women's, to go from Newcomer of the Year and Player of the Year in consecutive seasons. Papanikolaou is Cal's fifth all-time MPSF Player of the Year.
Everist is 391-122 overall since taking over the California program in 2002. This is his second MPSF Coach of the Year award and his first since his initial season
Senior 2-meter Nikos Delagrammatikas and junior utility Jack Deely joined Papanikolaou on the All-MPSF First Team. California shared the conference-high with three players earning first team selections.
Earning Second Team selections for the Golden Bears were sophomore attacker Garrett Dunn, sophomore goalkeeper Adrian Weinberg and freshman attacker Alika Naone, and rounding out the conference honors for the Bears was sophomore 2-meter Warren Loth, who earned All-MPSF Honorable Mention recognition.
Papanikolaou ranked third in the MPSF with 25 goals and fourth with 26 points and 14 steals through the regular season, scoring in all 10 of the Bears' regular season games. He earned 44 ejections (15 penalty shots) and is the only player in the MPSF this season to draw six exclusions against a conference opponent, having done so twice. Papanikolaou was one of three players in the MPSF to collect four steals in a single game, also doing so twice during the season.
Delagrammatikas tallied 14 points, 10 goals, four assists and five steals through the regular season. He finished with two hat tricks, scoring three goals each in two wins over UCLA.
Deely finished the regular season with a team-high 29 points (17 goals, 12 assists). The junior had a season-high five goals against UCLA on Feb. 21 and joined Papanikolaou as the only Bears to score five goals in a single game this season.
BETWEEN THE PIPES
Weinberg finished the regular season with a 7-1 record in the cage, 104 total saves and averaged 13.87 saves per game. He collected a season-high 15 saves in Cal's Feb. 7 win over then-No. 1 Stanford, holding the Cardinal to 11 goals, its second-lowest score of the season. Weinberg had at least 13 saves in six of the eight contests he played.
Naone had an impressive freshman campaign for the Bears, finishing the season tied for second on the team with 26 points (16 goals, 10 assists) and adding nine steals. He scored in all but one game this season and had at least one point in every contest. His season-high five points came in a 16-15 overtime win over UCLA on Feb. 21, when he finished with two goals and three assists.
FOLLOW THE ACTION
The NCAA semifinals and championship games will be streamed on NCAA.com. Fans can receive additional in-game updates and behind-the-scenes information all season long by following the Bears' social media accounts (Twitter: @CalWaterPolo, Instagram: @CalMWaterPolo).