By securing the sixth seed with a win over Pepperdine this past weekend, the No. 6 UCSB men’s water polo team’s quest for its first MPSF Championship in school history begins with a match against No. 2 Cal on Friday.
“I though defensively we played well.” Head Coach Wolf Wigo said. “We are really excited for this up-coming game.”
UCSB is currently riding a two-game winning streak with an overall record of 16-9 and finished conference play with a 5-5 record. Cal, the third seed in the tournament, has won five of its last six matches and holds a 21-5 record finishing MPSF play with a 7-2 record. The Golden Bears are seeking their first MPSF championship since 2006.
The quarterfinal match this Friday will be the fourth meeting between these two teams this season. The Bears have defeated the Gauchos in the last three matches by scores of: 12-5, 12-5 and 12-8.
“We’ve been going over the last three matches on film.” Senior goalkeeper Chris Whitelegge said. “We are really confident we can win.”
In the last matchup at Campus Pool, UCSB had a chance to pull off the upset against then No. 4 Cal when they were tied 8-8 after the third. In the final frame, Santa Barbara was held scoreless and gave up four goals in its third loss to Cal this season.
“We improved in each game we played them this year.” Wigo said. “The last game was our best performance, went tied into the third. I think we can do that again and this time we will finish.”
The Golden Bears are led by two top-10 MPSF scorers in freshman attacker Johnny Hooper and freshman utility Odysseas Masmanidis. Hooper is the third leading scorer in MPSF with 65 goals while Masmanidis ranks seventh with 56 goals this season. The two freshman have combined for 15 goals against the Gauchos this season.
UCSB must also be weary of Colin Mulcahy, the Sept. 7 KAP7/MPSF Player of the Week recipient. The senior attacker has scored 47 goals on the season, third most on the team, including a five goal performance this past weekend against Stanford. He has accounted for five goals in three matches against Santa Barbara this season.
“We have to be ready defensively.” Wigo said. “They are a tough team and they are talented.”
Defensively, the Golden Bears are led by junior goalkeeper Lazar Andric who has tallied 210 saves this season and has an impressive 10.2 saves per game. He holds the fourth highest saves total in a single match this season when he has 19 against Pacific on Oct. 10.
The Gauchos will want another big performance from star senior Derek Shoemaker who has been on a hot streak recently with seven goals in the last two matches. The attacker leads the team with 42 goals.
Right behind him is sophomore Shane Hauschild who has 35 goals on the season, good for second on the team. Other key factors are freshman Boris Jovanovic who has 26 goals this year and junior attacker Mitchell Hamilton who has scored at least two goals in the last two matches.
On the other side of the pool, UCSB knows it has one of the best goalkeepers in MPSF history, senior Chris Whitelegge. Whitelegge is currently at 850 career saves which is only five saves from the No. 3 spot and 39 saves from No. 2. However, Whitelegge has struggled against Cal allowing 12 goals in each of the last three matches.
Ultimately, the Gauchos will go as far as their star seniors take them. The seniors have played a big role all season whether it be offensively, defensively or in the leadership roles. Intensity will also be a big key to the game, as UCSB will need to take the game to Cal instead of the other way around. Most importantly, the intensity needs to last four quarters to in order to pull off the upset.
Santa Barbara will face off against Cal in the quarterfinals of the MPSF Tournament on Friday, Nov. 20 at USC’s Uytengsu Aquatic Center at 1 p.m.
A version of this article appeared on page 9 of November 19, 2015’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.