Nikolaos Papanikolaou’s 7 Goals Help Cal Stun USC in NCAA Men’s Water Polo Final

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Photo Courtesy: NCAA Media

Nikolaos Papanikolaou’s 7 Goals Help Cal Stun USC in NCAA Men’s Water Polo Final

Nikolaos Papanikolaou scored seven times, and Roberto Valera’s goal with 41 seconds left sent Cal to a 13-12 win over USC in the NCAA Men’s Water Polo final.

It’s the second straight title for the top-seeded Golden Bears, who won by the same score over the Trojans last year.

Both required fourth-quarter comebacks and last-minute goals – a season ago, it was Nikos Delagrammatikas with 28 seconds left. Both ended with Papanikolaou as the MVP of the postseason.

But this one was more epic, the Trojans (20-7) leading 12-8 with 7:13 left when Massimo Di Martire ripped home a shot from distance.

The Golden Bears, though, chipped away. After coming up empty on a man-up chance thanks to a great Kyle McKenney save, Valera made it 12-9. Jack Deely then twice threaded feeds to two meters that Papanikolaou one-touched home, the latter a 6-on-5 goal with 3:22 left. (The exclusion was Jake Ehrhardt’s third, fouling out the USC 2-meter specialist.)

Cal goalie Adrian Weinberg came up with a steal to short-circuit a USC chance. Despite Cal (23-2) squandering a 6-on-4 chance, Deely created a turnover and Papanikolaou was on the doorstep to punch home a deflected shot by Albert Ponferrada to tie the game with 90 seconds left.

Valera’s fourth goal, the game-winner, came from the first counterattack of any substance all day. Weinberg blocked a Di Martire effort in close, then outletted to Valera for a 2-on-1. He drew in the goalie and calmly slotted home with 41 seconds left to make put Cal up for good.

Weinberg came up with a steal on the final possession, USC trying to feed Andrej Grgurevic at two meters. Papanikolaou whiled away the final seven seconds with the ball in his grasp, drawing an exclusion and then gleefully tapping it to himself as time expired.

Cal is now 7-1 all-time against USC in NCAA Men’s Water Polo finals, though just 9-6 against them overall in NCAA tournament history. Cal beat USC in both meetings this season, including a 14-10 decision at Speiker Aquatics Center, and the six-loss Trojans required a win in the MPSF tournament to secure the automatic qualification spot

The national championship is the 16th in program history, the most in the nation. It’s the fifth in 21 seasons under coach Kirk Everist.

Papanikolaou’s seven goals tie a career high. They sent the three-time MPSF and reigning Cutino Award winner as national player of the year past Everist into fifth place all-time in career goals at Cal with 210. He needed just nine shots to get to his seven goals and earned seven exclusions. Valera added two steals to his four goals. Deely had four assists. Weinberg had 12 saves, two steals and two assists.

Nine players scored for US. Di Martire led the way with two goals and three assists. Max Miller scored twice on assisted redirects from 2-meters in the third quarter to help USC build its lead. Ehrhardt had two goals and an assist, Luke Brnetic paired a goal with two assists before also fouling out, and Carson Kranz dished two assists. McKenney made eight saves.

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