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Cal Men's Water Polo regains No.1 ranking as NCAA postseason approaches
Cal Women's Soccer and its top-40 RPI are also on track to make the NCAA tournament
Cal Athletics’ 2022 Fall semester really looks likes a repeat of 2021 and that is mostly not a good thing except for Cal Men’s Water Polo.
While Cal Football might miss bowl eligibility again and Cal Volleyball likely will go winless in the Pac-12, Cal Men’s Water Polo could repeat as NCAA Championships and extend their lead as the most successful program with a 16th NCAA Crown.
Cal Men’s Water Polo (17-1, 2-0 in MPSF)
California Golden Bears made a big statement last weekend with a big road win at then No.1 UCLA’s home pool. With that victory, Cal Bears are back to being the top ranked team in the country.
After withstanding a quick 3-0 lead by the Bruins, Cal Bears never quit and slowly clawed back. While star Nikolaos Papanikolaou did not tally a goal until late in regulation, he also added the eventual game winning goal in the 2nd OT. Max Casabella scored four goals to lead the Bears offensively in an exciting match. Check out the highlights from the Pac-12 Network below.
For some reason, the game winning goal did not make the highlights above. Casabella found Papanikolaou on Cal’s last possession of the match.
Sophomore Max Casabella has arguably made a leap in his second season. The Spanish native now leads the Cal squad with 49 goals. Of course, Max Casabella scored a game-high six goals in the NCAA semifinal last year. Being able to maintain that high level of play in his second year in Berkeley has made him the premier perimeter scorer for the Golden Bears.
The reigning Pete Cutino Award winner Nikolaos Papanikolaou is still at the center of the Cal attack as the starting center. In addition to drawing the most exclusions, Papanikolaou also contributes 45 goals. His bid to become the first repeat Cutino winner for Cal will depend on what happens in the MPSF and NCAA tournaments.
A couple more familiar names are found at the top of the Cal scoring list. Jack Deely is likely the top assist guy again on the team (somehow the assists numbers on the season is not available on the Cal website) to go with 22 goals. Bears have another strong sophomore attacker in Roberto Valera, the reigning MPSF Newcomer of the Year over Max Casabella, who has registered 42 goals.
Cal has also got at least three contributing newcomers. Jake Howerton, a sophomore transfer from Pepperdine, is 4th on the team with 23 goals. Freshmen Marton Szatmary (18 goals) and Nik Mirkovic (17 goals), the younger brother of recent Cal indoor and beach volleyball star Mima, have also become regulars on the score sheets.
With the mighty offense, both old and new, Cal’s championship repeating bid still rests largely on their junior keeper Adrian Weinberg. Weinberg has put up another fantastic season in front of the cage. He earned the MPSF Player of the Week honor for making 14 saves and getting four steals at UCLA, including a stop of an attack at point blank range at the end of regular and then saving a penalty shot in the first OT.
Cal will conclude their regular season with a match at San Jose State this Sunday and the Big Splash at Stanford next Saturday. Then it will be the MPSF Championship where the tournament will have a full slate of East Coast teams for the first time. Nonetheless, that tournament will be important in deciding which three of the four Pac-12 powerhouses between Cal, UCLA, Stanford, and USC will make the NCAA Tournament, hosted by Cal in early December.
Despite a near perfect season with the exception of a one-goal loss to Stanford at the MPSF Invite hosted by Stanford, Cal Bears knows that the differences between themselves and the other top teams are small. Cal needed OT to beat UCLA and Pacific this year. Yet with the experience of winning last year and home pool advantage for the NCAA, No.1 Cal Bears will have to live up to the expectation of another championship.
Cal Women’s Soccer (10-4-5, 5-3-2 in Pac-12)
With a RPI of 37, Cal should make the NCAA field of 64 regardless of what happens in their regular season finale against No.7 Stanford this afternoon.
Undefeated (but only 2-0-2) in their last four matches, Cal just recently dropped out of the top-25 in the coaches poll.
Last week, Bears had an impressive 4-0 home win over Colorado.
Keely Roy scored a brace to improve his team-high goal total to 11 on the season. Karlie Lema scored her 4th on the year while Noelle Bond-Flasza got her first.
Keeper Angelina Anderson got a clean sheet and another one (her 6th) agains Utah.
Unfortunately, Cal could not score a goal and only got a scoreless draw.
While Roy has scored a lot of goals, and only about half of them came from taking penalties, Cal only has two other players who have tallied multiple goals on the season in Lema and Ari Manrique. Then again, having 13 different players scoring on the year is a sign of offensive balance?
Ayo Oke does lead Cal with 9 assists and the combination of Roy and Oke is as lethal as any combination in Cal recent history.
In recent years, the teams that win the College Cup has barely scored in the postseason. Cal has got a chance of a long postseason run just due to how good Angelina Anderson is, especially if the game will be decided by a penalty shootout. We shall see if Cal can improve their postseason position with a big home win over Stanford.
Cal Men’s Soccer (3-7-6, 1-5-3 in Pac-12)
With a RPI of 81, Cal’s season will end after the home leg of the Bay Area Classico against Stanford next Saturday. While head coach Leonard Griffin’s side look decent at times as they battle No.1 Washington, No.6 Stanford, No.18 Oregon State, or No.28 UCLA at times, they just could not get the wins.
Cal suffered two heartbreakers to the undefeated No.1 Washington this year, including the recent home loss where they conceded the winner in the 90th minute.
The highlight for the Bears this year are two draws against Oregon State. Cal also lost by UCLA by just a goal in each of the two matches. Only twice in the regular season did Cal scored more than one goals. Cal Futbol just could not muster enough offense in 2022.
Cal Field Hockey (4-11, 3-5 in America East)
Cal Field Hockey’s season came to the end as the team just missed out on qualifying for the America East Tournament after an OT loss at Vermont where the hometeam was awarded a penalty corner, which they converted, at the end of regulation.
Nonetheless, Cal did manage a rivalry win over Stanford this year. Check out the highlights of this shootout victory below. Cal keeper Cato Knipping made the shootout save to seal the win for the Bears.
Cal Volleyball (7-15, 0-12 in Pac-12)
I see quite a parallel between Cal Volleyball and Cal Men’s Basketball in recent years, particularly in them sliding down the list of Cal programs that I can pay attention to.
Two weeks ago, Cal finally won another Pac-12 set when they took one from USC. Sadly, being able to only win sets (let’s not even talk about matches) against just two Pac-12 opponents all season long is a sign of just how much more the program will need to improve to be competitive.
While one probably cannot blame Bill Musgrave for this, Cal Volleyball is offensively challenged this season. As a team, Cal is only hitting 0.148 in Pac-12 play. Middleblocker turned opposite Lydia Grote has lost her effectiveness (0.110 in Pac-12 play) as the only attacker to be feared. A switch at setter between Annalea Maeder to Kendall Jensen has not made enough of a difference.
In addition to being outplayed for the duration of the matches, Cal has been particularly bad in the few chances where they could close out a set.
The hope is that with the team consisting mostly of underclassmen, the struggle now will pay off dividend next year. I really liked the move to hire Sam Crosson, but he just has not been able to replenish the talent (either from HS or via the transfer portal) in Berkeley after the massive exodus due to COVID after his successful first year in 2019.