Jan. 30, 2012
EINDHOVEN, NETHERLANDS - Aleksa Saponjic, who will be a sophomore for the Golden Bears next fall after an outstanding freshman campaign at Cal, helped his native Serbia win the gold medal at the Jan. 16-29 European Championship Sunday (Jan. 29) with a 9-8 win over Montenegro at Pieter van den Hoogenband Swim Stadium in Eindhoven, Netherlands.
Serbia's 2012 European Championship is its first since winning the 2006 championship in Belgrade, Serbia. Last Friday (Jan. 27) Saponjic had scored a goal in the semifinal match against Italy. His goal put Serbia up 6-5 in the second quarter in a match Serbia eventually won 12-8 over Italy.
"This is incredibly exciting for Aleksa, his team, his country and Cal water polo as well," said Cal coach Kirk Everist, a member of the United States 1992 and 1996 Olympic teams. "Aleksa will remember this experience for the rest of his life and we are all very proud of him."
Saponjic, from Belgrade, was one of 13 players selected from his national team after competing at the Samartzidis Cup, Jan. 9-11 on the Island of Chios, Greece against teams from Montenegro, Spain and Greece in a warm up to the European Championship. Saponjic, 19, is the youngest member of the Serbian National Team.
Aleksa Saponjic is used to high level international competition. Along with his brother Luka (senior this past fall at Cal), he was a member of the Serbian National Team that captured the gold medal at the 2011 World University Games in Shenzen, China, finishing with six goals and a team-high nine assists during the tournament. Aleksa Saponjic also helped Serbia to a gold medal at the 2011 World Junior Championships in Volos, Greece.
As a freshman at Cal in 2011, Aleksa Saponjic was third on the team in scoring with 30 goals in 22 matches and tallied 22 assists and 18 steals.
The Cal men's water polo team finished the 2011 season 22-4 over all and 7-1 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. The Bears' four losses this past season were all by one goal, including 7-6 in overtime to UCLA in the Nov. 26 MPSF Tournament semifinal in Los Angeles. Cal also fell 6-5 to UCLA Sept. 18 in the semifinals of the NorCal Tournament in Stockton, 10-9 in overtime to Stanford Oct. 2, and 9-8 in sudden death overtime to USC Oct. 15 at Cal.