If one thing can be distinguished above everything else as the UCSB men’s water polo team’s key to success, it is defense. And the cornerstone of that defense for the last four years has been senior goalie, Trevor Spence.
Indeed, the Gauchos’ formula for winning in the rigorous Mountain Pacific Sports Federation has always been based on an aggressive, no-holds-barred approach to defense. UCSB head coach Joe O’Brien believes that the Gauchos can score as many goals as they like, but without a fundamentally sound defense no team can succeed at a high level of play.
“The backbone of any defense is, naturally, the goalie, and Trevor has been a wall since his arrival,” O’Brien said. “He is athletic, quick and gifted. He gets to shots that seem unreachable, and has had a number of 20-save games. Pretty amazing.”
A high school All-American his last two years at Valhalla High School in El Cajon, Spence arrived at UCSB in 1997. As an incoming freshman at UCSB, he had the unique opportunity to train behind legendary Gaucho goalie, Lance “The Wall” Wahlert, who recognized Spence’s potential and immediately took him under his wing.
“Not only was Trevor a really fun guy to be around, but he was also willing to learn,” Wahlert said. “He has so many natural attributes that translate into excellent goalie skills.”
In 1997, the majority of the team was comprised of young, inexperienced underclassmen. Wahlert could give them advice on proper water polo technique while making sure everyone’s keg cups were facing down.
“I have a great deal of respect for Lance, as does everyone else who came in as freshmen,” Spence said. “But personally, Lance shared so many secrets that have helped me succeed at this level, and hopefully I can do the same for the younger guys as well.”
As Spence got older and wiser, more and more of his teammates recognized how he continued to improve long after his days of tutelage under Wahlert had come to an end.
“I think [Spence] gets better every day, and I have only been here this year,” freshman Mark Welch said. “He has his bad days, but he always finds a way to help the team in the end.”
In 1999, the Gauchos enjoyed their best season under O’Brien. Still competing as a relatively young squad, Santa Barbara upset a bevy of top 10 programs en route to a sixth place finish at the prestigious MPSF tournament. The season was all the more impressive given the two co-captains were the only seniors on the squad.
Ever the defensive stalwart, Spence was named to the Collegiate All-American water polo team that year. One of the season’s most memorable moments was when Spence tallied 20 saves in a near upset of Stanford at Palo Alto.
“Trevor is a good guy to have around because of his great personality,” senior driver Joey Pacelli said. “He helps us all have fun at practice, which is more important than one might think. Even though he might slack at times, he is always consistent in games.”
This season, Spence has continued to demonstrate his ability to keep the team in every game, even if the machine breaks down. He has amassed a 7.45 saves-per-game average, while helping the Gauchos to a 7.23 goals-allowed average, fourth in that category in the MPSF.
Presently, the Gauchos are struggling to find a rhythm, and they have certainly experienced difficulty in winning close games. However, the team is far from discouraged. Santa Barbara realizes that the win-loss column is not necessarily a gauge of a team’s ability to perform, and the players have yet to reach their true potential. Trevor Spence is as much a key to that success as is anybody else.