After a week of rest, the #6 UCSB men’s water polo team heads north this weekend to play conference foes #1 Cal and #7 Pacific.
“Everyone is a little relaxed,” senior utility Zsombor Vincze said. “But this week I feel the fire again and everyone is motivated again.”
The Gauchos (10-6 Overall, 1-2 in Conference) are going to need all the motivation they can muster against Cal (15-2 Overall, 4-0 in Conference). Considering Santa Barbara hasn’t defeated Cal in several years, some of the seniors are making it personal.
“I’d really love to beat them,” senior keeper Fraser Bunn said. “More than [I would] any other team.”
Despite Cal’s ranking, UCSB insists they are beatable.
“We don’t think they are that good,” senior utility Milos Golic said. “All teams are the same this year…We can win the game.”
Junior attacker Ivan Rackov serves as the Bears’ primary weapon. The Serbia native leads the MPSF in goals with 49 this season. The Gauchos’ own Serbian, Golic, has 45 goals.
“He’s [Rackov] a very tricky and deceptive shooter,” Bunn said. “[I’ll] definitely have to look out for him.”
After playing at Berkeley, UCSB will then travel to Stockton to face the Tigers (12-8 Overall, 1-3 in Conference). Earlier this year, Santa Barbara defeated Pacific 9-5 at the Northern California Invitational behind a hat trick from freshman Matt Gronrow.
“They [Pacific] are not really at our level,” Golic said. “But it’s hard to beat them in Stockton.”
According to junior two-meter Noah Smith, aggressive play will be essential to UCSB pulling out the win in the Bay.
“We have to play extremely physical and control the game,” Smith said.
With their current conference record at 1-2, UCSB’s road trip could make or break them if they still hope to make the NCAA Tournament.
“We can’t keep losing these games and make NCAA’s,” Golic said. “It [NCAA’s] doesn’t come out of the sky.”
With five games left to play before the MPSF Championships on Nov. 26, UCSB’s season is still wide open. Both Saturday’s match against Cal and Sunday’s against Pacific begin at 12 p.m.
“Anything can happen in these games,” Vincze said.