The No. 6 UCSB men’s water polo team faces an important weekend ahead with two MPSF conference games against Long Beach State and USC that will help determine its standing for the MPSF championships.
On Saturday the Gauchos will travel to play No. 7 Long Beach State (16-5 overall, 0-0 conference), and then on Sunday they will return to Santa Barbara to challenge No. 1 USC (19-1 overall, 1-0 conference).
This will be the third time UCSB has played Long Beach this season, and the first time the Gauchos will face USC since last year in the MPSF championships.
UCSB has gone undefeated against Long Beach so far this season, although both games ended in close scoring range. The first time they met at the NorCal Tournament in late September, UCSB won by a final score of 5-4, and more recently at the SoCal tournament, UCSB defeated Long Beach in a dramatic overtime ending with a score of 8-6.
“We beat Long Beach twice, but we struggled on the power play the last time we played them,” Head Coach Wolf Wigo said. “That has been a main focus this week in practice.”
UCSB has yet to play USC this season, but it will likely be a challenging game at home as the Trojans head into Gaucho territory with momentum, having won nine straight games.
“We haven’t played USC, which is a good and bad thing,” Wigo said. “It’s tough that they are number one, but also we really need that extra motivation going into the game.”
In order to remain undefeated over Long Beach, the Gauchos will have to maintain a strong and consistent defense throughout the entire game. In their most recent match against the 49ers, the Gauchos took an early lead but allowed the 49ers to score in the third and fourth quarter, sending the game into overtime. The two Long Beach players that pose the biggest threat offensively are leading scorers sophomore defender Zacchary Kappos with 37 on the year, and sophomore attacker Nolan McConnell with 30 on the year.
“For Long Beach we know how we can beat them and what we need to do, we just need to concentrate and keep our minds right,” junior attacker Eric Van de Mortel said.
UCSB will face another strong offense against USC which is currently averaging 17 goals a game. Sophomore goalkeeper Chris Whitelegge will serve as the rock for UCSB’s defense as it faces two leading scorers who have amounted over 50 goals each this season. USC’s senior driver Nikola Vavic has 57 goals and junior driver Kostas Genidounias has 53 goals on the season.
To be victorious this weekend, UCSB will need to play strong defense against Long Beach, and then return to Santa Barbara ready to rack up the goals against high scoring USC.
It is still early on in the MPSF conference games, but UCSB is tied for third place with a split record of 1-1 with Stanford and Cal. USC is currently ranked in second place with a record of 1-0 and Long Beach is ranked sixth with a record of 0-0, not having played any conference games yet.
When asked about the team’s goals for this weekend and beyond, Van de Mortel said, “We never want to put an NCAA championship out of our minds; that would be the ultimate goal.”
Saturday’s game against Long Beach will start at noon at the 49er Campus Pool and Sunday’s home game against USC will also begin at noon at UCSB’s Campus Pool.
A version of this article appeared on pages 6 and 7 of October 23, 2013’s print edition of The Daily Nexus.
Photo by Kevin Yang of The Daily Nexus.