The #5 UCSB men’s water polo team heads south this weekend to take on the nation’s best at the coveted Southern California Invitational, hosted by UCLA. The Gauchos (5-2 overall) took fifth place at the Northern California tournament two weeks ago.
Santa Barbara’s first match is against Concordia (1-3 overall). Pending a victory, UCSB will face off again with either #13 UCSD or #4 Stanford. Given their record and performance, the Gauchos expect to face Stanford — a team that has stifled UCSB the last three times they have faced each other.
“We are focusing a lot of our intensity on that [Stanford] game,” Head Coach Wolf Wigo said. “But at the same time, we can’t look past Concordia.”
San Diego (6-5 overall) has two losses at the hands of Santa Barbara so far this year. On the other hand, the Cardinals gave UCSB one of only their two losses this year, with a dramatic late goal to win 7-6 and advance in the NorCal Invitational held at Berkeley last week.
“We lost our composure for one minute,” Gronow said. “We got to keep our wits about us.”
Given the dramatic fashion in which the game ended, the Gauchos will be looking for revenge.
“We’re going to change a few tactics and exploit any weaknesses we saw [from the last game],” Wigo said.
Senior utility Zsombor Vincze will return to the pool for the tournament after sitting out last weekend’s loss against #6 Irvine with a rib injury.
“I’m going to push through the pain,” Vincze said. “It’s not a big deal.”
Vincze, who is tied for second on the team in points with Gronow, should boost a Gaucho offensive attack that only managed five goals in its last game. Part of the offensive lapse was due to an uncharacteristically absent performance from senior utility Milos Golic.
Golic, a three-time All-American and a consensus top player in the nation, has lit up the scoreboard this year. The Serbian native remains only 12 goals away from breaking the school record. After scoring 10 goals in the Northern California Tournament, he could break the record this weekend. However, other players are ready to step up.
“I try to make Milos’ and Zsombor’s jobs easier,” Gronow said. “When they are being pressed, it’s my job to score goals.”
Santa Barbara opens the tournament against Concordia at 12 noon on Saturday. Pending a victory, it plays the winner of the Stanford/UCSD game.
“Anything can happen,” Zsombor said.