Sat., Nov. 9 USC, Spieker Aquatics Complex, Berkeley, Calif. 10 a.m.
Bear Bites: Cal water polo (14-5, 3-2) has a great chance to show its mettle when it battles five-time defending national champion USC (20-2, 2-1) this Saturday at 10 a.m. at Spieker Aquatics Complex in a nationally televised match on the Pac-12 Networks (Jim Watson play-by-play, Chris Dorst analyst). The Golden Bears, winners of five of their last six matches, are looking to upend a team ranked higher in the national rankings for the first time this season. Cal’s five losses have been to then-No. 1-ranked UCLA (6-5) and Stanford (12-10) at the NorCal Invite, No. 4 Stanford (14-8) at the SoCal Invite, 7-6 to Pacific Oct. 5 at home and 6-4 last week at UCLA. The Bears 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 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.
Cal’s 2013 Scenario: In 2013, the Bears hope to finish strong like they did in 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 (29 goals) and Saponjic (28 goals) and lead the Bears in scoring this season, while other stat leaders include senior Giacomo Cupido with 27 assists, Smith and Cupido with 25 steals apiece, sophomores Thomas Agramonte and Mulcahy with 22 ejections earned, and Mulcahy with 12 field blocks. Mulcahy and freshman Farrel South were outstanding last weekend. Mulcahy scored five goals in the 10-9 come-from-behind win over Long Beach State, while South tied the UCLA match, 4-4, with a goal in the fourth period and had the game-winner with 25 seconds at LBSU. 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.
Smith Standout: Cal senior attacker 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 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 127 career goals, 84 assists, 85 steals, 27 ejections earned and 27 field blocks.
Saponjic’s Olympic Experience: Cal junior attacker 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 led Team USA to 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.
Head Coach Kirk Everist: A 2004 inductee into the Cal Athletic Hall of Fame, Kirk Everist is in his 12th year with a 258-76 mark (.772), 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.