Bear Bites: In one of the biggest collegiate water polo matches of the early 2013 season, No. 4-ranked Cal (8-2) hosts No. 3-ranked Pacific (9-1, 1-0) Saturday at 10:30 a.m. in a Pac-12 Networks televised match at Spieker Aquatics Complex (Jim Watson, play-by-play; Greg Mescall, analyst). The Golden Bears are looking to upend the higher ranked Tigers in their league opener. Pacific upset then-No. 3-ranked Stanford, 14-12, last weekend, while Cal outscored Redlands (20-8) and UC Davis (14-4) at the Aggie Shootout in Davis. The Bears, whose two losses this season have been to No. 1 UCLA (6-5) and No. 4 Stanford (12-10), feature 2012 first-team All-American Collin Smith and 2012 Olympian Aleksa Saponjic. Smith led Cal with 61 goals and 31 steals last season, and Saponjic won a bronze medal as a member of the Serbian National Team in London and was a 2012 second-team All-American. Cal also returns three honorable mention All-Americans from the 2012 squad that finished 17-8 overall (5-3 in the MPSF) and were runners-up to national champion USC at the MPSF Tournament. Senior Hunter Gettelfinger notched 20 goals and was a top defender with a team-high 46 steals in 2012. Junior goalie Jon Sibley had 110 saves in 12 matches, including 12 saves in his first collegiate match against top-ranked USC, while sophomore Colin Mulcahy tallied 25 goals in 25 matches and was second on the squad with 29 ejections earned as a redshirt freshman. Pacific is led by senior Balazs Erdelyi with 36 goals, while senior goalie Alex Malkis was named MPSF Player of the Week last week after recording 14 saves versus Stanford.
Smith Standout: Cal senior attacker Collin Smith was stellar last season, leading the Bears in both scoring and assists, while also tallying 31 steals, 11 ejections earned and 10 field blocks. Smith, who was elected 2013 team captain by his teammates, has been a major contributor for Cal ever since his freshman year in 2010 and was a 2011 honorable mention All-American. He joins fellow senior Giacomo Cupido as the only two Bears on the current squad who competed in the 2010 national title match in which Cal dropped a 12-10 overtime decision to USC. Smith currently has 120 career goals, 76 assists, 79 steals, 25 ejections earned and 22 field blocks.
Saponjic’s Olympic Experience: Cal junior attacker Aleksa Saponjic helped his native Serbia to a 12-11 victory over Montenegro in the bronze medal match of the 2012 London Olympics. Saponjic became the first Bear to win an Olympic medal in men’s water polo since Kevin Robertson and Olympic assistant coach Steve Heaston were members of the USA team that won a silver medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Saponjic helped Serbia to a 6-1-1 record in London. In the bronze medal match, Saponjic, the second youngest player on the Serbian national team at 20, played more than eight minutes, recording a steal and winning the sprint to lead off the second and third quarters. At the Olympics, Saponjic notched a goal and ended up winning seven sprints with four steals, two block shots and one assist.
Cal’s 2013 Scenario: In 2013, the Bears will look to continue their momentum from 2012 when they won seven of their last eight contests, including upending then-No. 2 ranked UCLA, 12-9, in the MPSF Tournament semifinal. Smith leads the Bears this season with 22 goals, while Cal has outscored its opponents, 147-72. Cal has won more collegiate titles (13) than any other team in the nation, last upending USC for the 2006 (8-7) and 2007 (8-6) NCAA titles.the Bears will be televised six times on the Pac-12 Networks this season, including Nov. 9 against five-time defending national champion USC.
Head Coach Kirk Everist: A 2004 inductee into the Cal Athletic Hall of Fame, Kirk Everist is in his 12th year with a 252-73 mark (.775), leading the Bears to NCAA titles in 2006 and 2007, and MPSF crowns in 2002 and 2006. He was the 2006 NCAA Coach of the Year and 2002 MPSF Coach of the Year. A 1990 Cal graduate, Everist led the Bears to NCAA titles in 1987 and 1988, earning All-American status three straight seasons (1986-88) and NCAA Player of the Year honors in 1988. He played for the USA National Team for nine years (1988-96)and competed in the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games.