The #8 UCSB men’s water polo squad (2-3 overall, 1-2 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) will be looking to move past .500 for the first time this season when it takes on Loyola Marymount University today at 4 p.m. The Gauchos will also play University of California-Irvine tomorrow at 1 p.m. Both matches will be held at the Campus Pool.

Santa Barbara is coming off a dominating 11-5 win last Sunday when it overwhelmed the University of Pacific. UCSB controlled all facets of the game to win its first MPSF match of the season in front of a capacity crowd at the Campus Pool.

The win was a much needed break for the Gauchos after starting off the season with a dismal 1-3 record, where they lost two heartbreaking matches in the final moments to MPSF rivals USC and Berkeley. USC was the top-ranked team in the nation when the squad locked horns with UCSB, and Cal is now ranked second in the nation.

“The Pacific match renewed my confidence in the capabilities of my athletes,” UCSB Head Coach Joe O’Brien said. “It was a good win.”

After an intense week of practice, the Gauchos hope to pick up where they left off last Sunday. First up for UCSB is a non-conference match against a tough LMU squad (5-4). The Lions are led by freshman utility Stephen Lipinkski, who leads LMU with 22 goals on the season.

“They are one of the more physical teams we will face this season, but we have the strength to counter their players, so I feel confident in our abilities to defend them,” O’Brien said.

The Gauchos have been preparing for Loyola Marymount’s “drop offense” and feel that they will come out on top at the end of the day. Last year, the Lions beat UCSB 8-7, so there will be an added incentive to win.

“On paper, we are better than them. But we have to prove it out in the pool,” senior co-captain and 1999 All-American Tom Coughlan said. “We need to come out and make a statement against LMU.”

The following day, Santa Barbara will take on Irvine (2-3, 1-2) in a key MPSF match. The Anteaters and Gauchos have identical records, but Irvine is ranked right ahead of Santa Barbara in the NCAA polls. Last year, Irvine beat Santa Barbara 10-8.

The last couple of years we have had some tough matches with Irvine,” O’Brien said. “In other years they would physically manhandle us. But this year, that isn’t going to happen.”

After the Pacific match, when UCSB began pulling its starters midway through the second period, O’Brien feels he has the depth and strength to call on anyone when he needs them.

“We have as many as 18 solid players that are ready to step in if someone is not having a good day,” O’Brien said. “Depth is our team strength.”

Victories against LMU and Irvine could translate into bigger and better things for the Gauchos, who will be heading to Palo Alto the following weekend for the Nor-Cal Tournament.

“If we play up to our potential, we should not be beat,” senior co-captain Joey Pacelli said.