The UCSB men’s water polo team placed second overall in the highly contested Southern California Tournament. With huge wins over UC San Diego, Stanford and UCLA, the Gauchos ran out of gas, falling short against USC in the championship game 14-5.
“I have to give it to them — they played very good defense, they were active. Our shooters didn’t have much time,” Head Coach Wolf Wigo said. “On the other end, they shot lights out. They were on fire.”
Despite the loss, No. 6 UCSB played great throughout the tournament, beating No. 11 UC San Diego, No. 3 Stanford and No. 2 UCLA to make the championship game. The Gauchos started slow in the tournament, trailing at half time to UCSD, a team they beat 18-10 this year.
“We were playing good water polo and things weren’t going our way. I said keep working, keep doing things the right way and shots will fall,” Wigo said. “We made some adjustments on one of their players who hadn’t played the first time.”
After making the adjustments, UCSB pulled ahead in the second half, winning 15-8. Junior 2-meter Dylan Baliani, junior attacker Evan Dellinger, sophomore utility Brendan McElroy and sophomore attacker Derek Shoemaker all had two goals each to contribute to the win.
Later that day at Campus Pool, the Gauchos and their rowdy tortilla throwing fans showed up to beat Stanford 12- 9. The game began as a defensive battle before junior 2-meter Teddy Zhang and the rest of the Gauchos got the offense going. Leading 4-3 at half time, UCSB scored six goals in the fourth quarter to ice the game and secure a place in the semifinal game against UCLA.
On Sunday at Dos Pueblos High School, UCSB came firing out of the gates, leading 8-4 after the first half. UCLA made some half time adjustments and went on a 6-2 run in the second half, bringing the score to 10-10. With only 44 seconds left, Shoemaker scored his fourth goal to win the match and send the Gauchos to the championship game.
“The win felt great. We know we are a top four team, but now the nation knows — especially when we proved it by beating UCLA,” Zhang said.
The winning momentum was not enough to carry UCSB to first place, as it lost a tough 14-5 match to No. 1 USC.
“They played very well, all of their shots were going bar in and perfect corner,” Baliani said. “All our shots were bar outs and not corners.”
In comparison, the Gauchos and Trojans had very different roads to the championship game.
“We had three very physical and emotional games leading up to that. [USC] was never pushed, they had all the energy going into the championship game,” Wigo said. “All the games we had great fan support, it really helped our team and I hope we can continue throughout the season.”
UCSB resumes play on Sunday, Oct. 7, playing matches against Iona and Harvard.