The No. 5 UCSB men’s water polo team finished their season earlier than expected due to the fires that are still impacting Southern California. Santa Barbara was getting ready to face No.8 Pepperdine, but the game was canceled due to the closure of the 101 freeway, which prohibited the Waves from making the trip.
Despite the season ending early due to extremely unfortunate circumstances, it was an overall successful campaign for the ’Chos as they ended the year with an 18-8 record, 3-1 in conference play. After a disappointing season in 2017, they were able to rally and win seven more games than the prior year.
Many attribute their turnaround to the stellar play from senior driver Boris Jovanovic, as he ended the year with 78 goals and 10 assists. By putting constant pressure on the defense, he was not only able to find the back of the net on many occasions but was also able to set up his teammates due to the attention he received from opposing defenses. Unfortunately, he could not be honored due to the cancelation of the Pepperdine matchup, which was Santa Barbara’s last home game.
Although Jovanovic was a major contributor, there were other players who had just as much of an impact. Junior utility Ivan Gvozdanovic was outstanding and contributed in every major category with 48 goals as well as a team-leading 25 assists, along with 37 steals.
A major characteristic of the Gaucho offense was the unselfish nature of every player. Five players had double-digits assists, which made the team difficult to defend especially when they had the advantage of a power play.
The selfless nature of the offense also led to 12 players having more than 10 goals on the season. With every player being a threat to net a goal, opponents struggled to hold down UCSB, which led to them averaging over 13 goals per contest.
While Santa Barbara’s offense clearly improved, its defense also took major strides, primarily due to the play of freshman goalkeeper Tiago Bonchristiano. Bonchristiano had 149 saves on the year and only gave up an average of nine goals a game in his last five starts.
With 10 freshman on the roster, it was important for Jovanovic and Gvozdanovic to provide leadership. As the season went on, the freshmen started to contribute on a regular basis, whether it be by netting goals or playing stingy defense leading to fastbreak opportunities.
Freshman driver Nathan Puentes was able to provide a spark for the ’Chos throughout the year as he contributed on both ends of the pool. He finished the season with 16 goals, 5 assists and 8 steals.
It will be important for Puentes and his fellow freshmen teammates to continue to take strides going into next season. With Santa Barbara losing Jovanovic, it will need its young core to step up, specifically offensively.
One of the major takeaways from the season was that the Gauchos improved in almost every statistical category, including goals, assists and steals, while also allowing less goals per contest. By being aggressive defensively, they were able to limit the amount of shots on goal in comparison to the 2017 season, and this also gave them more opportunities to put pressure on the opposing team’s goalkeeper.
With most of the starters returning for the 2019 season, there is a lot of excitement brewing among those in the program with the hope that they could surpass this season’s win count of 18.
That being said, UCSB must use this offseason to build upon its pre-existing habits as well as continue to strengthen the chemistry within the team.
A version of this story appeared on page 07 of the Nov. 15th print edition of the Daily Nexus.