It certainly was not easy, but the Golden Bears are back on top of the collegiate water polo world after second consecutive days of needing overtime to defeat a quality opponent.
Trailing by 2 goals for the bulk of regulation and not being able to convert on any of their first 10+ power plays, Bears finally broke through in the 4th quarter to make it an exciting finish. Trailing 5-3 with under 6:45 minutes left, Conor Neumann put the Bears within one. Bears finally equalize things with 4:05 left. A match that had been a defensive struggle kicked into a different gear late in regulation. With the two sides trading goals late (Simsek put the Bears ahead but USC would not go away as Edwards scored an equalizer; Masmanidis gave the Bears the lead again late but USC’s Maier answered right away), this match needed 6 more minutes of OT (two 3-minute periods) to be decided.
The two teams traded goals to start overtime (Johnny Hooper converted on a penalty earned by Odysseas Masmanidis but USC responded with a goal), Cal senior Farrel South then broke the tie with a minute left in the 1st OT. Junior 2016 Rio Calympian Luca Cupido scored as time expires (there was a ordinary foul to give him one last shot) on the 1st OT to put the Bears ahead by two. Cupido’s goal completely changed the outlook of the 2nd OT (last three minutes).
USC hit the posts twice in the 2nd OT, and it was essentially over. With the championship secured, freshman Safak Simsek completed his hat trick to make the final margin 11-8 Cal Bears over USC Trojans. Credits to USC Trojans today and UCLA Bruins yesterday for putting up great fights, but the California Golden Bears are national champions yet again!
This is Cal’s 14th NCAA championship in men’s water polo and the first one since 2007. Bears also got to avenge the 2010 championship match loss to the Trojans.
This title is the first national championship of this school year, the first national championship since the Rugby 7s championship in June, the first NCAA championship since Cal Women’s Crew this spring (rugby and men’s crew are not governed by the NCAA), and the first NCAA men’s championship won by Cal since Men’s Swimming and Diving in 2014. This is also the first fall national championship won by Golden Bears since men’s water polo won it in 2007.
Overall, Cal now have 95 team national championships in school history - although a large fraction of them (mainly rugby and men’s crew) are not NCAA championships.
Cal senior goalie Lazar Andric was named the MVP of the NCAA tournament after recording 14 more saves in the final. What a way to end his Cal career! Luca Cupido, Odysseas Masmanidis, and Johnny Hooper were all named to the All-NCAA Tournament First Team. Conor Neumann, whose late goals won the semifinal and also got the Bears within one in the 4th quarter of the final, was named to the Second Team.
This is head coach (and Cal alum and 2x Calympian) Kirk Everist’s 3rd national championship as a coach (the other two was the back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007). It is also the first time that Everist got to win this championship in Berkeley (the 2010 final at Spieker went to USC). In the interview above, Luca Cupido talks about winning this game for his older brother who was a freshman on the 2010 team. “If you're a Bear, it's not only for the four years you're here but even when you're done.” This is precisely the kind of attitude that has lead to the Cal Men’s Water Polo success where the Bears have won at least one national title in every decades.
Congratulations to head coach Kirk Everist and the entire Cal Men’s Water Polo team, staff, and family on capturing another NCAA national championship. Let’s start another Cal Men’s Water Polo dynasty in this decade!
In case you missed it, you can watch the Full Replay of this exciting championship match from NCAA HERE.
Their recap is embedded below: