No. 1 Bears Win MPSF Regular Season Championship
BERKELEY – Considering what was at stake, it's hard to imagine the proceedings going any better Saturday for the No. 1 Cal men's water polo team.
The Bears put together their most complete performance of the season when it mattered most, winning the MPSF regular season championship with a thorough 16-9 dismantling No. 3 UCLA in front of a spirited crowd at Spieker Aquatics Complex. Cal (20-2, 3-0 MPSF) earned the No. 1 seed at next weekend's MPSF Championships at Stanford by handing the powerhouse Bruins their worst lost since 2008.
"We played pretty consistent the whole way," Cal head coach Kirk Everist said. "You want to celebrate these things as you go through the season and then you re-evaluate and go back to a new purpose for the season. We got through the regular season successfully. You need to acknowledge when you are able to do that against this kind of competition. I'm proud of the team for how they played during the regular season."
The Bears leveraged an emotionally charged environment following a pregame Senior Day ceremony and blitzed UCLA with a 5-0 run in the second quarter to pull away. Cal led 10-5 at halftime before the Bruins cut it to 11-8 with 2:50 remaining in the third quarter. But the Bears scored the next four goals to lead 15-8 with just over six minutes to play.
"Everyone came to play," said Miles O'Brien-Schridde, one of four Cal seniors to be honored before the game. "Everyone had the mentality to play for the seniors and close out the season. I couldn't have hoped for that to have gone any better. That was a fantastic game of water polo. There are still things to improve on, but that was a picture perfect close to the season."
Freshman Roberto Valera had four goals and an assist for the Bears while fellow freshman Max Casabella added three goals and an assist. Junior All-American Nikolaos Papanikolaou had two goals and two assists.
"I thought our defense was really good and made it really hard on them," Everist said. "We were getting really good offensive possessions and making them work. We have really good shooters and guys who are confident on the perimeter. They were patient and really made it hard on their defense. Those are good things to see."
Along with O'Brien-Schridde, Nikos Delagrammatikas, David Feingold and Frederick Houghton were honored before playing their last home game at Cal.
"You're welcomed into this Bear family and it's a dynamic that you can't get elsewhere," O'Brien-Schridde said. "You have a short time with this program and it's given me a whole lot, and I've given everything I have to it. I only have so many opportunities left to give it my best and have no regrets. You want to be able to look back at these last few weeks and not regret anything."
The Bears will open the MPSF Championships next Saturday at 9:30 a.m. against either No. 4 Stanford, Austin College or Penn State Behrend.