Bear Bites: The California men’s water polo team, which wrapped up last season winning its final two matches of the MPSF tournament, opens the 2014 season Sept. 6-7 at the Triton Invitational in San Diego. The Golden Bears, who are ranked fourth in both CWPA and the MPSF Preseason Polls, take on Air Force at 8:30 a.m. (Canyonview Pool) and host No. 10 UC San Diego at 2:40 p.m. on Saturday at Triton Pool. On Sunday, Cal battles No. 7 UC Santa Barbara at 9:20 a.m. (Triton Pool) followed by Le Verne at 11 a.m (Canyonview Pool). The Bears return a strong senior class from last year’s team (18-8, 4-4 in MPSF), including 11 letterwinners and two All-Americans – second-team selection Aleksa Saponjic (senior attacker), and honorable mention pick Colin Mulcahy (junior attacker). Senior leaders for Cal also include top field players Blake Kelly, Luka Ivanovic and Matt Russell, who have all logged considerable minutes the past two seasons and will be a key to the team’s success in 2014. All three are multiple MPSF and ACWPC All-Academic honorees and have combined for 87 goals and 157 steals in their collegiate careers. Senior goalie Jon Sibley, fresh off of playing with the USA National Team this past summer, has 247 career saves and was an honorable mention All-American in 2012. Junior Thomas Agramonte and sophomores Farrel South, Thomas Carroll and Chandler Jarrels-Stickney are also talented players who will bolster Kirk Everist’s squad in its quest for an NCAA-record 14th national title.
All-American Bears: Saponjic, a bronze medalist with Serbia at the 2012 London Olympics, led the Bears last season with 44 goals, including with three scores versus UC Irvine and four goals against Long Beach State in the MPSF tournament. He is a three-time All-American and a three-time academic honoree who is a member of the Cal Haas School of Business. 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. Mulcahy has been an honorable mention All-American the past two years and was third on the Bears’ squad with 41 goals in 2013, while contributing a team-high 29 ejections earned and 13 field blocks. Saponjic’s older brother, Luka, was a standout for the Bears from 2008-11, while Mulcahy’s father, Tim, starred for Cal in 1972.
Cal’s Young Talent: Everist’s squad will also be welcoming 10 standout freshmen this season, including Luca Cupido, a 6-2, 204-pound attacker from Santa Margherita Ligure, Italy, and younger brother of Bear standout Giacomo Cupido, who shined for Cal from 2010-2013. Luca Cupido was a 2013 first-team high school All-American at Newport Harbor High School and was a member of Italian squads that won gold medals at the 2013 LEN Junior European Championship and the 2013 FINA Junior World Championship. He recently played alongside former Bear star John Mann as a member of the United States’ squad that placed fourth at the FINA World Cup in Kazakhstan, scoring goals in the quarterfinals, semifinals and bronze medal matches. Cupido will be joined by fellow newcomers Lazar Andric (sophomore goalie), Thomas Appel, Nicholas Carniglia, Jonathan Chow, Conor Neumann, Troy Oates, Matt Sherburne, Pedro Stellet and Vassilis Tzavaras.
Bears’ 2014 Scenario: In 2014, the Bears will look to continue their momentum from the 2013 campaign when they defeated UC Irvine and Long Beach State in the MPSF Tournament after a first round loss to USC. Cal will be televised four times on the Pac-12 Networks this year, including a non-conference match versus Navy on Sept. 26 at 12:30 a.m. at Spieker Aquatics Complex. On Oct. 18 Cal will host UCLA in an MPSF tilt at Spieker (time TBA), and the annual Big Splash versus Stanford will televised Nov. 8 at Spieker (time TBA). Finally, Cal’s Nov. 15 match in Los Angeles at six-time defending NCAA champion USC will be shown on the Pac-12 Networks at 10:30 a.m. 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.
Head Coach Kirk Everist:A 2004 inductee into the Cal Athletic Hall of Fame, Kirk Everist is in his 13th year with a 262-79 mark (.768), 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.