The UCSB men’s swimming team opened its season Sunday morning taking on Pac-10 powerhouse California Berkeley at Campus Pool. The defending Big West Conference champions swam well, yet lost 114-89 to the Golden Bears.

The top performances for the Gauchos came from senior co-captain Kevin Herlihy, junior Matt Wheeler and sophomore Eric Koch. All three took first place in their respective events.

Herlihy swam an impressive 500-meter freestyle, timing in at 4:39.91, .39 seconds faster than the runner-up from California, Sean Gruver.

Wheeler, two-time defending Big West Swimmer of the Year, torched his competition in the 400-meter individual medley, clocking in with a blazing time of 4:00.08. The next closest competitor was three seconds behind him.

Koch, the defending Big West Champion in the 1000-meter and 1650-meter free, took first in the 1000 freestyle with a time of 9:36.16. The 1000 freestyle race ended in a photo finish between Koch and fellow teammate, sophomore Matt Schubert. California’s George Wilkinson jumped out to an early lead in the race, but Schubert and Koch caught up and eventually overtook the Golden Bear. At the finish line, Koch managed to out-touch Schubert to win by 0.11 seconds.

In addition to the three individual first-place finishes, UCSB went first and second in the 200-meter medley relay. The first-place relay team consisted of junior Anders Nelson, senior Seth Derrick, junior Ashlin Wilbun and freshman Eric Lee Jr. They came in with a time of 1:37.26.

“This was a good race for us,” UCSB Head Coach Gregg Wilson said. “It exposed a lot of good things for us, and a lot of bad things for us.”

Wilson was pleased with how his distance swimmers fared. However, the coach hopes his sprint swimmers will pick up the slack in upcoming meets.

“It’s early in the season and we have a lot to work on,” Wilson said, referring to the sprint swimmers.

However, team co-captain, David “Pooh” Maddan remained upbeat about the Gauchos’ performance, realizing the team just went up against a very strong Cal program that boasts several Olympic athletes.

“Our team showed a lot of heart today,” Maddan said. “We were behind all of our guys from the beginning till the last event.”

The Gauchos will be participating in the Big West Shootout next Friday and Saturday, along with the women’s team. While there, UCSB will go head to head with all of their rivals in the Big West including Washington, a Pac-10 program.

“It will be a good opportunity for the freshmen to experience a big meet and for the veterans to step-up and show them how it’s done,” Maddan said.

As for doubts about the level of future performance, junior Marc Cavallero summed up the team’s plans for next weekend tersely.

“We’re looking to dominate,” he said.