Sat., Nov. 23 at Stanford, Avery Aquatics Center, Stanford, Calif. 10 a.m.
Bear Bites: Looking to avenge a couple of losses this season to its Bay Area rival, Cal (16-6, 4-3) visits Stanford (18-4, 6-1) Saturday (Nov. 23) in a Big Splash/MPSF contest shown live at 10 a.m. on the Pac-12 Networks (play-by-play Jason Knapp, color analyst Greg Mescall). The winner of the Big Splash will receive the Steve Heaston Trophy, named after the former Cal men’s water polo coach (1989-98, three NCAA titles) who passed away in 1999. The two schools are the most successful in the nation, winning a combined 23 NCAA titles (Cal 13, Stanford 10). The Golden Bears are looking to finish the regular season strong entering the Nov. 29-Dec. 1 MPSF Tournament in Stockton, and putting themselves in position for their 27th postseason appearance and an NCAA-record 14th national title. Cal’s six losses this season have all been to teams currently ranked higher in the national polls, including losing to Stanford, 12-10, Sept. 22 at the NorCal Invite in Berkeley; and, 14-8, Oct. 12 at the SoCal Invite in Irvine. 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. Cal’s top scorers this season are Mulcahy (34), Saponjic (33) and Smith (32). Other stat leaders include senior Giacomo Cupido with 32 assists and 31 steals, sophomore Thomas Agramonte with 25 ejections earned and Mulcahy with 12 field blocks. 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.
Noting Stanford and The Big Splash: Stanford (18-4, 6-1 MPSF) is coached by John Vargas (12th year) and led by sophomore Bret Bonanni’s 74 goals (1st in MPSF 3.36 gpg). Cal has defeated the Cardinal in the last two Big Splashes, 11-4, at Stanford in 2011, and, 14-8, at Cal in 2012. Since the Steve Heaston Trophy was established in 1999, the series is tied, 7-7. Cal and Stanford are the nation’s two most successful programs, with the Bears winning 13 NCAA titles and the Cardinal 10. In national championship matches between the two schools, Stanford has won four times (1978, 80, 86, 2002) and Cal three (1984, 90, 92).
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 130 career goals, 90 assists, 89 steals, 28 ejections earned and 29 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 260-77 mark (.771), 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.