Fresh off a sixth place finish in the SoCal tournament, the No. 6 UCSB men’s water polo team competed in its first Mountain Pacific Sports Federation games this weekend, splitting its matches. The Gauchos defeated No. 9 Pepperdine on the road 17-10 Saturday before losing 12-9 at home Sunday against No. 5 UC Berkeley.
As a result, Santa Barbara moves to 14-5 overall and 1-1 in the MPSF. The Waves, on the other hand, dropped to 7-7 overall and 0-1 in conference while Cal improved to 11-4 overall and 0-1 in league.
Sunday’s game began showcasing both teams’ defensive abilities. With just one goal apiece, the score was tied through the first quarter of play.
The offense began to pick up in the second quarter for Cal, as they pulled away, outscoring the Gauchos 4-1. California attackers, junior Aleska Saponjic and redshirt freshman Farrel South, put up two early goals. Sophomore Mitchell Hamilton followed suit, notching two late goals of his own for the Golden Bears. UCSB’s leading scorer Senior Matt Gronow kept the game close however, with a pair of goals in the second quarter to keep the score at a manageable 5-3.
In the second half, California’s offense began to stand out. They effectively ran the break and scored on a multitude of counter attacks. Though UCSB was able to pull within one with about three minutes left in the third quarter, California’s balanced scoring stifled any hopes of a comeback.
“This game started off with great defense,” Head Coach Wolf Wigo said. “We gave up a few too many counter goals for us to be in the game and that’s unfortunate because we did a lot of good things.”
Gronow led the attack for UCSB, striking for four goals in the game to add to his total of 42 on the season. Defensively, sophomore goalkeeper Chris Whitelegge totaled seven saves on the day.
“The thing that helped me out was that I caught the defense in a little bit of a lapse,” Gronow said. “The majority of the time they weren’t really expecting it and I think that’s the best time to capitalize.”
Saturday’s game against Pepperdine gave the Gauchos a much needed opening win before Sunday’s match. The score was kept close through the first two quarters of play, as the Gauchos held the lead only 6-5. However in the second half, the Gauchos pulled away outscoring Pepperdine 11-5 on their way to an eventual 17-10 win.
Sophomore two-meter Nicholas Jordan and junior attacker Eric Van de Mortel led the Gaucho offensive attack with a combined seven goals on the day. UCSB held strong on the defensive side as well. Sophomore keeper Whitelegge racked up six crucial saves in the first two quarters to maintain the Gaucho’s lead at half.
Even an impressive performance by sophomore utility player Luke Hewko was not enough for Pepperdine to attain the win. Hewko provided three goals, adding to his total of 46 for the season.
“[It was a] great game; [we] had an amazing performance against Pepperdine who’s top 10 in the county and in the second half we sort of ran them out,” Wigo commented. “The six on five was great all weekend; the power play had a very high percentage.”
The Gauchos will travel to Long Beach on Saturday to play No. 7 Long Beach State (16-5 overall) before heading home to compete against No. 1 USC (19-1 overall) on Sunday.
This article is an online exclusive and did not appear in the print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Kevin Yang of the Daily Nexus.