No. 8 UCSB men’s water polo team (11-5 overall) placed fifth at the Southern California Tournament this weekend hosted by Long Beach State.
The Gauchos split Saturday’s matches, defeating No. 12 UC San Diego 15-9 before losing in the quarterfinals 12-5 to No. 2 UCLA. The team then beat No. 6 Pacific 9-8 in sudden death overtime and No. 7 UC Irvine 9-6 to capture fifth place in the tournament.
“Overall, it was a great weekend,” Head Coach Wolf Wigo said. “We have a really young team and a lot of depth. It was a solid team effort throughout the whole weekend.”
In the final match of the tournament, the Gauchos never trailed despite the close score. Freshman attacker Eric Van de Mortel led the offense for Santa Barbara with three goals.
“[The game] was back and forth and we were kind of just going through the motions,” junior goalkeeper Myles Christian said. “Eric scored two big goals for us and that got the team fired up. We realized we needed to put that team away.”
The fifth place finish for the Gauchos is two places better than their seventh place finish at the NorCal Tournament two weekends ago.
“We played a couple strong games, beating UOP and then UCI to secure fifth [place],” Christian said. “It was a good improvement from our last tournament.”
Against Pacific, UCSB headed into the fourth quarter with a 7-3 lead, but it quickly disappeared when the Tigers held the Gauchos scoreless in the final quarter and scored the last four goals to force overtime.
“We were playing a great game and controlled it from the very beginning, but they did a good job coming back to tie the game up,” Wigo said. “They have some superstars that put the game on their back.”
An 8-8 draw at the end of overtime meant sudden death, where junior attacker Jesse Gillespie mustered in a final goal for a well-fought victory.
“The shot clock was winding down and we set Jesse up-top at center stage,” Wigo said. “We were able to get him the ball and he was able to get a great shot as the shot clock was winding down. He’s a great finisher.”
UCLA jumped out to an early 5-0 lead in Saturday afternoon’s game behind a scoreless first quarter by UCSB. The deficit proved too large for the Gauchos to dig themselves out. The five goals is the smallest amount scored in a game for the Gauchos all season.
“Our offense definitely struggled, especially finding the back of their goal,” Wigo said. “We missed some good looks and they made some very beautiful shots.”
The Bruins led the charge with a balanced attack, with four players scoring two goals. However, Santa Barbara’s offense was one-dimensional with junior utility Brian Shoemaker tallying four of the Gaucho’s five goals.
“They were scoring really nice shots and we weren’t making our shots,” Christian said. “They basically outplayed us.”
In the tournament opener against UCSD, Santa Barbara came out firing. The Gauchos jumped out to a 5-0 lead and 11 of their 21 players scored at least one goal.
“We wanted some revenge after last weekend with the loss to Concordia and the close win against Pomona-Pitzer,” Gillespie said. “We wanted to prove our talent.”
While sophomore goalkeeper Jay Lovero saved 12 of UCSD’s shots, Triton senior driver Graham Saber still managed to find the back of the net four times.
UCSB heads north next Sunday to begin conference play against No. 4 Stanford.