After a yearlong drought at home, the UCSB men’s water polo team played some of its best water polo of the season for a packed Campus Pool crowd.
The Gauchos vastly outmatched and outperformed a physically inferior University of Pacific squad Sunday afternoon. Santa Barbara prevailed in convincing fashion, winning 11-5, and perhaps quelling some doubt as to whether or not the 2001 team can compete with the best.
“The possibility for an emotional letdown was real, but our guys responded well,” UCSB Head Coach Joe O’Brien said.
Indeed, the Gauchos must have been mentally frustrated following a last-second loss at Southern California two weeks ago and last weekend’s overtime thriller at Berkeley that also left the team empty-handed.
Sunday’s contest was exactly what Santa Barbara needed to boost its morale. Santa Barbara dominated the game from the outset, and the team was able to play most of its reserves against the Tigers, whose fatigue was evident following poor showings against UCLA and Long Beach State last weekend.
UCSB controlled the first quarter on both sides of the ball. The Gauchos scored on their first possession. The first goal came on a man-up opportunity that left freshman two-meter set Mark Welch open in front of the cage. Two minutes later, senior utility Tom Coughlan scored his sixth goal of the season on another man-up possession.
“It was really great that we converted those early six-on-fives,” Welch said. “It was nice to see our work pay some dividends.”
Welch played well against the Tigers along with two other freshmen, lefty driver Andrew Schoneberger and utility Brian Alexander. The young threesome combined for six goals, showing its meddle in a crucial Mountain Pacific Sports Federation match.
Although the offensive machine was clicking, a few defensive miscues in the second quarter allowed the Tigers to claw their way to a 6-2 halftime deficit. UOP did not let up in the third quarter, with sophomore Jarrod Cruzat scoring from eight meters to bring the Tigers within three.
But 6-3 was as close as UOP would come to catching UCSB. The Gauchos unleashed their relentless counterattack for four unanswered goals to end the third quarter.
“I was worried that we would come out flat, but we took control of the game early, and piled it on in the second half,” Coughlan said. “They just couldn’t keep up.”
The fourth quarter was academic, as the Gaucho reserves continued the onslaught. The Tigers couldn’t get anything going offensively. The UCSB defense, anchored by a stellar game from senior All-American goalie Trevor Spence, has always been an integral part of UCSB’s success.
“Defensively, we like to jump on teams early and take the wind out of their sails,” junior playmaker Kyle Ashley said.
The Gauchos did just that, proving that defense is the key to success. Santa Barbara’s goals-against-average is a remarkable 6.0 after five games.
O’Brien was impressed with all aspects of Sunday’s game, but conceded that the win is only one small step of a much longer journey.
“This is a really good group of guys who are very trusting,” he said. “Therefore, working in an aggressive mode is definitely something we have to build on. When we get that combination right, we will be very tough. We will be nasty.”