Senior utility Zsombor Vincze of the men’s water polo team is unique both in and out of the water. After being named an All-American Honorable Mention last year, he has established himself as one of the irrefutable best players in the country at the collegiate level.
However, his road to success was unpaved. Vincze was plagued with a crooked spine while growing up in Szeged, Hungary, and his parents sought therapy for their son in the water.
At age five, Vincze joined a swim team and flourished.
“Most kids are scared at that age, but I had no fear,” Vincze said.
Five years later, Vincze’s spine straightened out and he joined a water polo team that would ultimately lead to his move to Santa Barbara.
“Back then, I had no intentions or idea of how to get to America,” Vincze said.
Several years later, a teenaged Vincze traveled to Florida with his club team for an international water polo tournament. There he met Bruce Wigo, the tournament director, whose son Wolf Wigo coached at UCSB.
Bruce mentioned that his son was looking for players. Enamored by the American lifestyle, Vincze agreed.
“I talked to Wolf [Wigo] on the phone and was immediately in,” the Hungarian native said.
Vincze was soon on a plane to Santa Barbara to begin his life in America. In the water, the then-freshman immediately made an impact, earning All-MPSF Honorable Mention Team honors after scoring 30 goals and dishing out 23 assists. The following year, he accumulated 46 more goals and 25 assists to earn the same conference honors. After sitting out 2008 with a medical red-shirt, Vincze earned his third honorable mention award in 2009.
“He has a lot of great aspects to his game,” freshman driver Matt Gronow said. “He is an amazing shooter, real smart, surprisingly fast and strong as hell.”
Although he adapted quickly to American water polo, Vincze initially struggled with English.
“I had to carry a pocket dictionary with me everywhere,” Vincze said. “And I couldn’t express myself emotionally for the first year.”
Although he could not convey his emotions, Vincze said his most difficult struggle involved the use of humor.
“I wasn’t able to joke,” Vincze said. “And that’s an essential part of me.”
Last year at a women’s water polo game, Vincze and some friends performed synchronized swimming, which the crowd received favorably.
“Everybody thought it was hilarious,” Golic said.
Despite developing the ability to joke, some of Vincze’s friends jokingly insist his English still is not up to par.
According to Gronow, Vincze’s roommate, Vincze has an “annoying” habit where he finds new English words that he likes and will perpetually say them.
“I like the flavor of some words,” the Hungarian native said. “And I will create circumstances where it [the word] has to pop-up.”
Another language quirk for Vincze is his use of abbreviations. Vincze abhors the use of mediated abbreviations such as
“LOL,” “WTF,” and “OMG.” To poke fun at his roommates, Vincze uses them in everyday spoken conversation, starting a trend on the team.
According to his roommates, Vincze also has terrible taste in music.
“His music taste is horrible,” Gronow said. “He likes crap and will play his Hungarian music to the maximum volume and sing along.”
Vincze disagrees with Gronow.
“I have the most sophisticated taste in music,” Vincze said. “Matty’s taste is horrible.”
Golic, a fellow Eastern European, agrees with Vincze on this issue.
“I think his taste is great,” Golic said. “He knows good music for sure.”
According to his teammates, Vincze has several other quirks, including pre-game rituals that red-shirt freshman Paddy Kelleher calls “ridiculous Hungarian stretches.”
“Some of them probably shouldn’t be done in a speedo,” he said.
Like all athletes, Vincze appreciates his rest. However, he probably appreciates it a little more. The Hungary native uses the aid of a sound machine to sleep.
“He sleeps with a little sound machine to calm him, like a baby,” Golic said. “We all make fun of him for it.”
Vincze and the rest of the squad play again at Campus Pool on Oct. 23 at 12 p.m. in a conference match against Long Beach State.