LOS ALAMITOS, CA., December 1. ELEVEN was heaven but twelve'll be swell.
This could be the motto for rookie Cal water polo coach Kirk Everist and his "mighty" Golden Bears tonight as they upended Mountain Pacific Sports Federation regular-season champ Pepperdine, 9-8, to win the conference tournament.
Cal, 19-6 overall and second-ranked nationally, has won a record 11 NCAA polo championships. Now it has a great shot at an even dozen as its victory tonight sends Da Bears into the NCAA Final Four next weekend at Loyola-Marymount University. Pepperdine's Waves wind up 16-10 and had a 7-1 regular-season MPSF record.
(Cal, Stanford, UCLA and USC are the only NCAA Division 1 schools to have won both men's swimming-diving AND polo championships. Stanford is the only school to have won women's and men's swimming-diving AND both polo titles too.)
The Bears join Queens College of New York, the Collegiate Water Polo Assn. qualifier from the east; and U Cal San Diego, the Western Water Polo Assn. qualifier — plus an at-large team to be chosen by the Men's Water Polo Committee in the NCAA Final Four Tournament.
(The fourth team — which will be named later
on Monday — will likely be Stanford or the Waves.)
Everist was a member of a pair of Cal teams that won an NCAA championship in 1987 and again the following season, then saw their bid for a three-peat fail in a loss in the '89 finals to U Cal Irvine.
He was also the NCAA Player of the Year his junior season. If Cal wins the title, Everist will become the second man (UCLA's Adam Krikorian was the first) to earn a ring both as a player and as a coach. Krikorian has won as a player and coach for the Bruins and Everist would love nothing better then to follow suit — for Cal of course.
The Bears last won the NCAA title a decade ago. It was last in the Final Four's championship game in '95, when it lost a tough 10-8 match to (gasp!) Stanford.
"Our goal was to make it to the NCAA Tournament," said
Everist, "and now that we've accomplished that goal our next objective is to win the title. We played a tough game tonight. [Pepperdine's] Jesse Smith was great against us. The last time we played against them they beat us badly, so this was a great win.
"With [goalie Russell] Bernstein's performance in the first-round he saved our team with great defense, which enabled us to move into the winners' bracket. Our players played their roles on defense tonight, to where they kept us in the game. We did not give Pepperdine any easy looks. We are a very good defensive team."
Cal senior Andrew Stoddard notched his third hat trick of the season and goalie Bernstein — who has been solid in the cage for the Bears throughout the season and is a lock for All-America honors — tallied 11 saves to lead Cal over Pepperdine's Waves. The match took place here at the Joint Forces Training Base, home to the U.S. national men's team.
Everist, similar to rookie Stanford coach John Vargas, was a very successful prep coach at Orinda (CA.) Miramonte High — winning eight CIF Northern Section titles in the last 11 years — before taking over the reins at his alma mater in January.
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Cal took control of the game in the third-quarter, breaking a 5-5 tie, outscoring the Waves three to one. Todd Hylton and Chris Lathrop each scored two goals for the Bears. Smith led Pepperdine, the MSPF regular-season champion and No. 1 seed in the tournament — with four goals.
The game started off wildly, Cal taking a 4-3 lead after one quarter. Stoddard scored the first (6:02) and fourth (0:06) goals of the period for Cal. Pepperdine tied the game 5-5 at the half as Scott Harvey found the back of the net at 0:32 to tie the contest.
In the pivotal third quarter, Smith scored his third goal of the game at 6:43, giving Pepperdine a 6-5 lead. But the Bears rioared back with three straight goals. Hylton scored at 6:04, Lathrop at 5:00 and Will Quist at 3:14 to give Cal an 8-6 lead after three.
Stoddard's goal at 2:51 in the fourth proved to be the game-winner. Bernstein also recorded four of his saves in the fourth-quarter and the Bears were the champs.
CAL (19-6) 4-1-3-1—9
PEPP (16-10) 3-2-1-2—8
CAL: Andrew Stoddard 3, Todd Hylton 2, Chris Lathrop 2, Attila Banhidy 1, Will Quist 1
Pepperdine: Jesse Smith 4, Jeremy Grubbs 1, Scott Harvey 1, Karl Niehaus 1, Michael Hausmann 1
Russell Bernsetin (Cal) 11
Michael Soltis (Pepperdine) 4
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In the game for third lace, UCLA — scoring a pair of final quarter goals — won by an 8-6 margin over defending NCAA champ Stanford. The victory was the Bruins' first in four tries this season over the Cardinal, which finished with a 22-5 record.
– Bill Bell