Cal’s Colin Mulcahy still remembers the day like it was yesterday, though it was more than five years ago.
He and his father were playing a spirited game of one-on-one basketball and Ted had enjoyed an undefeated record against his son.
“He would always beat me,” Mulcahy said. “He never let up on me. It drove me crazy. I hated to lose. I would get close sometimes and then he would pull away.”
Not on this day. The student became the teacher and Mulcahy was able to school his father for his first victory.
“I think it was the happiest day of my life,” Mulcahy said.
What the youngster didn’t realize at the time was his dad was instilling a competitive spirit in his son that would serve him well in his athletic career.
It’s a trait that has taken Mulcahy a few years to perfect, but after four years at Cal, the senior believes he has harnessed his competitiveness into something productive.
Cal Head Coach, Kirk Everist has noticed his progression.
“He’s matured a lot over four years,” Everist said. “This team has been really resilient. Like most seasons in our conference and in this sport there are ups and downs and are times when it looks bleak and Colin has not allowed this team to give up.”
Mulcahy started playing the sport in 7th grade and despite having a dad who played at Cal for two years and a grandfather who was on the Cal crew team, Mulcahy’s first love was basketball.
“It took me a while to get good at water polo,” Mulcahy said. “I was always in the pool when I was young, just playing around, but I didn’t get serious until I started playing on club.”
That club team was affiliated with Stanford and closest to Mulcahy’s Los Altos home, though his club team wasn’t real popular in the Mulcahy home with two generations of Cal alumni.
“I was definitely not wearing red and white around the house,” Mulcahy said. “Especially at grandpa’s house.”
The club allowed Mulcahy to grow fond of the sport but as he got into high school he realized he was surrounded by equally as talented players.
“I always wanted to be the best,” Mulcahy said. “It took me a while to realize I wasn’t going to be the best player all the time.”
While Mulcahy might not have been the best every day, he made the decision that no one was going to out work him.
“I’ve always had an edge to me,” Mulcahy said. “If you didn’t have it you’d be left behind.”
It was one of the traits Everist admires most.
“He has a tremendous amount heart if you watch him play it’s pretty easy to see his passion for the game,” Everist said. “He plays every day like it’s his last. He’s always on tilt, he doesn’t back off. He’s constantly competing for every little thing. He always plays hard, all the time, no matter what we are doing. That really helps him be successful in the water.”
His aggressiveness is obvious. Mulcahy is third on the team in goals, but near the top in steals and ejections.
The downside of having that chip is losses were always difficult to take.
“I had this hate of losing, more than a joy for winning,” Mulcahy said. “I wasn’t able to compartmentalize the losses. It was just eat me up inside.”
It took some time but Mulcahy finally was able to enjoy winning.
“Winning has become sweeter,” he said. I haven’t let the losses get to me like I did before.”
That was important because Everist needed his co-captain to lead the younger players.
“He’s kind of willed it to continue to move forward and push through those times where you are struggling or doubting or your confidence isn’t that high as you want it,” Everist said. “He’s really shoved this team through it and led by example. It’s a young team and they don’t really know what to expect and he’s really communicated well what to expect and how to get through it.”
It is groundwork that Mulcahy feels proud of, despite coming up short in the NCAA Tournament.
“Yeah, I know with the span of my time here I've grown personally in and out of the pool and with my teammates,” Mulcahy said. “We had a snag, but the thing about our program is that once you are in it you are in it for life. I know that next year this group will back and I will feel just as much part of it as I did this year next year when I am on the sidelines watching.”