Oct. 11, 2010

 

by Trevor Freeman
Special to NCAA.com

It was shakeout Saturday in the world of water polo as the top two teams in the country were both taken down in the Bay Area. Submitting a top twenty ballot will never get tougher than this week as one might as well throw darts at a board to arrange the nations top six teams.

Third-ranked California was one of the teams that pulled off a surprise. Down 4-2 at the end of the first period, the Golden Bears went on a five-goal run through the second quarter and the first part of the third stanza to grab a 7-4 lead that they would never relinquish. With an 11-8 victory, California notched an important conference win. Their victory was keyed by Ivan Rackovs hat trick and Justin Parsons thirteen saves. Prior to their thrilling victory over UCLA, I caught up Cal Head Coach Kirk Everist and we discussed his squad. Below is our interview.

I thought your team showed great character in bouncing back from your loss against UC-Irvine on Saturday as you routed a good Pacific team and controlled an always stout Stanford squad. Can you tell us a little bit about both the loss to UCI and the way your team was able to rebound from it?

"We were all very proud of the team's effort and execution on Sunday. One of the hardest things to do in sports, I believe, is to come back and play after your main goal (winning the tournament, getting to the medal round, etc.) has been taken off the table. The team came together and played their best water polo of the year and that was a great sign. It takes character to do that.

We were obviously very disappointed with our result against UC Irvine. They are a very dangerous team, they are well coached and they executed better than us at the critical times of the game. Our team defense was lacking and UC Irvine took advantage of its openings. There are many teams this year that have the ability to win big games and we saw this at the SoCal Invitational with great efforts on Saturday from UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara. Pacific is another team that is very dangerous as we saw in its close match with UCLA. UC Santa Barbara and UC Irvine went down to the wire with USC and UCLA on Sunday as well. It is going to be a wild year as teams start to travel for conference games."

I have noticed that both Justin Parsons and Wil Toppen have been seeing time in the cage for your team. Will that rotation continue or is there now a clear number one goalie for your squad?

"We have two very good goalies on our team and I believe in both Wil and JP. I know we can win big games with either of them in the cage. At this point I approach it like we have two No. 1 goalies."

We spoke about Ivan Rackov and Zach White in the preseason and they have both been outstanding. One guy I haven't asked you about is Luka Saponjic. He seems to be coming on strong. Can you tell us what makes him the great player he is?

"Luka is an outstanding player who has really started to step up for us. His size (6-5) and arm strength are his biggest assets. He is a very strong perimeter shooter as a left-handed attacker and is someone you just can't drop off of. Luka is a player that has the potential to score 4-5 goals on any day if the opportunities come his way. He adds a tremendous amount of game experience to our team from his time on the Serbian Junior and Senior National Teams."


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The other shocker of the weekend occurred in Palo Alto when fourth-ranked Stanford stunned top-ranked USC 5-3. After losing to sixth-ranked UCSB and getting beaten decisively by third-ranked California last weekend, nobody thought that this Stanford team could upset the Trojans. That is, except for Stanford. The Cardinal submitted their finest defensive effort of the season as they held a high-scoring Trojan squad to three goals. Brian Pingree was described as being simply incredible” as his fourteen saves were the difference for the Cardinal. This victory should give the Cardinal a hop in their step as they head to Southern California next weekend for a date with UCLA. Meanwhile, USC has to be disappointed with their anemic, three-goal effort. They will not have time to lick their wounds as California strolls into town next Saturday in a key conference matchup.

Second-ranked UCLAs trip through Northern California almost turned into a complete disaster as they barely held off seventh-ranked Pacific in Stockton on Sunday. UCLA survived with a 10-9 victory behind two goals each from Cristiano Mirarchi and Jacob Murphy. In other MPSF action, fifth-ranked UC-Irvine stayed hot as they knocked off ninth-ranked Pepperdine 12-9. Brandon Johnson scored five goals while Tom Kruip notched a hat trick in defeating the Waves.

The Claremont Convergence took place this weekend and there were a number of matchups between the middle class of the water polo nation. One notable upset that occurred was Fordham knocking off seventeenth-ranked Concordia behind four goals from Alex Powell. Fourteenth-ranked Santa Clara had an impressive weekend as they defeated Whittier, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, twentieth-ranked Pomona-Pitzer and Occidental. Outside of their loss to Santa Clara, Pomona-Pitzer also had a strong weekend as they defeated Air Force, Harvard and Johns Hopkins. One team that is not ranked in the national top twenty, but may have earned their way into the rankings with their performance on Friday and Saturday is Redlands. The Bulldogs upended Johns Hopkins, George Washington, Iona and Fresno Pacific to complete a perfect weekend.


Player of the Week:

Brian Pingree, Stanford, Jr.: The redshirt junior had his best game as a collegian in leading Stanford to a thrilling 5-3 victory over top-ranked USC. Pingree notched an impressive fourteen saves in the Cardinals incredible defensive effort.

Contest to Watch:

This weekend saw the Bay Area powers trump the Los Angeles heavyweights. Next weekend, we will see if USC and UCLA return the favor at home. USC hosts California while Stanford rolls into UCLA in two key conference matchups.