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Big Splash: No.4 Cal Women’s Water Polo edged by No.1 Stanford 13-12

That was close.

Golden Bears have two more weekends of home matches (two this weekend vs. Stanford and Indiana, season finale next weekend vs. ASU).
Cal women’s water polo Twitter

If this water polo match was just few minutes longer? Golden Bears’ furious comeback in the final minutes fell just short.

Stanford manages to beat all of their rivals by just one goals in their last three matches. Perhaps the differences amongst the top 4 women’s water polo squads are not that big and any of them (including Cal) can win the 2019 NCAA national championship?

Plenty has changed in the women’s college water polo world since I wrote about Cal women’s water polo’s ascension to 3rd in the country after a tournament win over then No.3 UCLA on February 24th.

One of the major fall out from the infamous Operation Varsity Blue scandal that has swept college admission and celebrity is the firing of long time USC water polo (both men’s and women’s) head coach in Jovan Vavic. The Trojans has since dropped from being the top ranked team in the country to No.2 behind Stanford - although they did fight Stanford hard in their 9-8 OT loss two weeks ago.

In conference play (rather than tournament play), Golden Bears have lost to both UCLA (close 9-7 loss) and USC (not so close 8-3 home loss last weekend). Bears also split two matches with No.4/5 Hawaii - winning 10-9 before losing 5-6 two weeks ago.

We have been waiting for Cal to take that step to break into the top 3 in the country (only 3 schools have ever won the NCAA women’s water polo championships - USC, UCLA, and Stanford), but that’s probably not quite happening this year. Just a year ago, Golden Bears defeated Stanford in triple OT en route to a very rare No.1 ranking in the country. Bears, sadly, was not able to hold on to that momentum and even lost twice to Stanford in both MPSF and NCAA tournament play.

With the graduation of program’s all-time leading scorer in Hungarian Calympian Dora Antal, Canadian national team member Emma Wright paced the Golden Bears with 41 goals. Unfortunately, she’s not getting as much help as the Bears needed as scoring have been tough to come by, particularly against the top teams.

Cal’s Dutch sophomore center Kitty Lynn Joustra only has 23 goals (good for 3rd best) behind Wright and Brigit Mulder (25 goals). Nonetheless, the Bears are nowhere as proficient scoring as the past few seasons with Antal. Joustra did score the Golden Goal winner against Stanford last year, and the Bears would need that kind of effort from her to pull off the upset on Saturday.

Inside the cage for the Bears is senior goalkeeper Madison Tagg. Tagg has played quite well, earning key saves in one on one situations, but that’s not quite enough for the Bears to win these matches. She does have a high number of saves, reaching double digits in several matches, but that’s also indicative of seeing too many shots behind a porous Cal defense.

Stanford (16-1) is looking to wrap a perfect MPSF regular season conference play. Since losing to USC in a tournament (same one when Cal beat UCLA for 3rd place), they have won 6 straight matches - although the last two wins over USC and UCLA came via just one goal. There is a chance that they may be overlooking the Bears on Saturday, but’s unlikely given the rivalry that is the Big Splash - even if the women’s version does not have a trophy (as far as I can tell).

Makenzie Fischer is leading the Cardinal with 65 goals on the year. Sarah Klass and Aria Fischer have over 30 goals each as well. Both Fischer sisters (just junior and sophomore) are a part of the gold winning USA team in the 2016 Rio games. This also means that they will probably both sit out next year to prep for the 2020 Tokyo games.

Big Splash: California Golden Bears (13-5, 1-2 in MPSF) vs. Stanford Cardinal (16-1, 4-0 in MPSF)

Where: Spieker Aquatics Complex (Berkeley, CA)

When: Noon PT

TV: None (for whatever reason, this match is not televised)