While most programs will be navigating through their normal routines this summer, Cal's women's water polo team is about to embark on a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will not only provide lasting memories but give it a jumpstart on the 2014 season.
The Bears leave Monday for Kazan, Russia to compete in the World University Games. Cal was selected by USA Water Polo to represent the country at the event, which features eight quality teams from around the globe.
Cal opens play on July 6 against Hungary.
"We have a big advantage right here," Cal senior Ashley Young said. "No other team is training internationally the way we're about to. I think that will really help us come together and play as a team. We're going to be playing some of the toughest competition that there is around."
Rather than hold tryouts and build a team with a group of "all-stars," USA Water Polo decided for the first time this year to send a singular college team to the World University Games. Cal coach Richard Corso is very familiar with international competition - he's served as the head coach for the U.S. Men's Olympic Water Polo Team and the Canadian Men's National Team.
"It's one of the greatest honors you can have," Corso said. "It's one thing to play for your university or your club team or high school team. But when you put the cap of your country on, it's a big honor. It's a big honor to wear those colors and those warm-ups."
Corso expects the competition to be extremely difficult. Some of the teams will be featuring the best players in their country, using the World University Games as a training for the World Championships later in the month in Barcelona, Spain. Other countries may be looking at their players and considering if they are in the running to make the roster for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Along with the United States and Hungary, other participating teams are Austria, France, Russia, Japan, Italy and Canada.
"It's not only the opportunity to travel internationally, it's a great trip for putting together next season's team," Corso said. "We've had great training before it even starts. That's something we don't really get a chance to do at the college level. And it will be very similar to the Olympics. It's a multi-sport competition. It really will have the feel of a Pan-Am Games or the Olympic Games."
The trip will allow the Bears to get in some good off-season bonding time while seeing how they measure up against some of the top water polo players on the planet. Cal is allowed to bring 13 players along with Corso and Associate Head Coach Matt Flesher.
"We feel very blessed to have this opportunity," Young said. "It came out of nowhere. Nobody expected this to come. We're traveling to Europe and playing some of the toughest countries out there at our level. We're pretty eager to see what's going to happen."