Palo Alto, Calif.-Blood, broken noses, overtime thrillers, last-second victories and warm sunshine were all in abundance at last weekend’s collegiate men’s NorCal Water Polo Tournament at Stanford. Left to be desired, however, was a legitimate showing from the UCSB men’s water polo team.
The Gauchos (6-5 overall, 2-2 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) failed once again to advance past the first round. Santa Barbara was soundly defeated on Saturday by Loyola Marymount, knocking it out of the winner’s bracket for the fourth consecutive year.
“I was disappointed,” UCSB Head Coach Joe O’Brien said. “I thought we were ready to play better. LMU was very aggressive, and physically they caught us off guard. LMU played very well, but we should be the better team in a game like that.”
The first three quarters were typical of a physical game, filled with high intensity and low scoring. Goals by freshman utility Brian Alexander, freshman driver Andrew Schoneberger and junior defender Anthony Borasi kept the contest close and the two teams were deadlocked at three goals each heading into the fourth quarter.
That’s when it got ugly. The Lions broke the defensive battle open with five goals in the last quarter. According to O’Brien, one particular sequence late in the quarter put the game out of reach.
“We missed a penalty shot that would have tied it, and they made a penalty shot on the next possession,” O’Brien said. “Instead of being tied, we were down two with very little time left.”
The weekend was indeed a disaster, as two lackluster victories over Davis and UOP were followed by what was perhaps the Gauchos’ worst performance of the season, a thorough 9-2 drubbing by the UCSD Tritons.
“We are showing signs of frustration,” O’Brien said. “Overall we learned that you can’t let your expectations get ahead of where you are. We have to feel more comfortable dealing with aggressive, physical teams, especially toward the end of the season, when the best teams are always the aggressors.”
The approaching weekend will certainly be the biggest test of the year for the Gauchos. They travel to third-ranked Pepperdine on Saturday, only to return on Sunday to Campus Pool to face undefeated NorCal Tournament champion Stanford.
The Gauchos still have all the elements to defeat any team in the country. It is one thing to have elements, however, and quite another to fuse those elements into a winning combination. Anything less than a finely tuned machine will not suffice against either the Waves or the Cardinal, both of which are playing exceptional water polo thus far this season.
“We cannot get too discouraged at this point,” senior playmaker Reid Particelli said. “We have a huge weekend coming up, and a lot of our inconsistencies must be corrected in a very short period of time. Stanford and Pepperdine are playing well, but we can win if we just put four solid quarters together.”