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NCAA Men’s Water Polo semifinal: Cal edged by USC 12-11 in a heartbreaker

It’s the rematch of the 2016 NCAA Men’s Water Final championship match.

Golden Bears will look to beat USC for the 2nd time this year.
Cal Men’s Water Polo Twitter (catharynhaynephoto)

A more substantial recap is coming later.

Cal Men’s Water Polo sees its NCAA title defense comes to an end via a heartbreaking 12-11 loss to host USC. Gold Bears had a 10-7 lead with about 10 minutes to go after Luca Cupido was punched by a USC Trojan and got whistled for a “flagrant misconduct” (sometimes called “brutality”). But the Trojans would not go away and got two big goals at the end of the 3rd quarter before pulling ahead late.

Golden Bears lost 2nd top scorer Johnny Hooper to disqualification via 3 exclusions. Hooper was involved in two double-exclusions. Masmanidis was also DQ’ed late as the Bears ran out of scorer to get the equalizer.

It was a physical game and the Bears came out on the wrong side of it.


It’s the rematch of the 2016 NCAA Men’s Water Polo championship final in the 2nd semifinal of the 2017 NCAA tournament. Last year, from the friendly confine of Spieker Aquatic Center in Berkeley, California Golden Bears were triumphant via a hard fought 11-8 OT result to win the program’s 14 NCAA national championship title.

This year, the rematch will take place from the USC home pool, the Uytengsu Aquatics Center. A site that the Golden Bears will look to turn into a “Bear Territory” this weekend.

It is slightly shocking that this will only be the 2nd match of the year between these two rival. Bears defeated then No.1 USC 6-3 on Senior Day in Berkeley earlier this year. They accomplished that feat without MPSF Player of the Year in Luca Cupido.

I have basically went over the Cal roster in my Golden Medals post on Friday. I will go over the USC roster in my “keys to victory” (because this worked out so well last year).

Keys to Victory:

1. Lazar Andric Kevin Le Vine vs. McQuin Baron

With the graduation of last year’s NCAA tournament MVP in Lazar Andric, Golden Bears have a new netminder in senior Kevin Le Vine who has seized the opportunity in his final year of eligibility. Le Vine is tutored by Andric, who is now the Bears’ graduate assistant. Le Vine plays a fairly aggressive keeper, being willing to come out of the cage to steal balls away as well as making the long outlet throws to assist in mighty Cal transition game.

As for USC Trojans, they are led by McQuin Baron in the net. Baron is the team USA goalkeeper in the 2016 Rio Olympics. In the play-in match on Thursday, the senior Baron became the MPSF all-time saves leader.

With this potentially being the last match for Baron in his home pool, Bears would likely see some typical goal chances stopped by some extraordinary efffort by Baron. Nonetheless, it is important for the Bears to not get frustrated. This match could be another defensive struggle where neither team breaks the double digit mark.

2. Fast break with Johnny Hooper

Cal is one of the best transition team in the country. While junior Johnny Hooper is not as prolific in 2017 as in 2016, Hooper remains one of the top candidate to get the transition goals for the Bears. With 47 goals on the year, Hooper is 2nd on the team in goals behind only Cupido.

A quick transition goal is always very emotional up-lifting. This is particularly big for the Bears as the away team. By respecting Cal’s transition game, USC may not attack as aggressively at times.

3. Continue with the physical defense

In one of the easy tune up match this year, captain Luca Cupido was fairly critical of his team’s defensive effort in the post-match interview. The Golden Bears know that it is the defense that will win them the NCAA championship.

Being able to defend without being excluded (remember that 3 exclusions in a match means a disqualification for the rest of the match) is a big part of any water polo match. When the Bears do get called for exclusions, the power play killing is also pivotal in front of Le Vine.

A freshman in Marko Vivic is the top Trojans scorer with 47 goals. Senior Blake Edwards is 2nd with 44 goals. From 2-meter, the top threats there for USC are Sam Slobodien and Matt Maier with 27 and 25 goals, respectively.

4. Last weekend of college water polo for Luca Cupido

Since Cupido did not travel with the team to the season opening tournament in Princeton last year, I have yet to see Cupido play in person. Nonetheless, the senior who is a regular scorer with Team USA has finally also do that for his Cal team. Cupido added the co-captain responsibility this year and has come up big with the season on the line both offensively and defensively.

I am expecting greatness from Cupido this weekend. It is not an IF he will rise up and make some tremendous play but WHAT VARIETY for the versatile Cal senior - who is probably both the best scorer and best defender for the Golden Bears. He will probably do both.

5. Make shots!

My perennial 5th key for just about every Cal sports.

For more info on this weekend’s NCAA Championship action:



Semifinal 1: UCLA vs. Pacific at 3 pm PT

Semifinal 2: Cal vs. USC at 5:15 pm PT


Championship final: 3 pm PT

Where: Uytengsu Aquatics Center (Los Angeles, CA)

When: 5:15 pm PT (about 30 minutes after the conclusion of the 1st semifinal between UCLA and Pacific)

Free Online Stream: NCAA

Live Stats: The FOSH