Sunday’s sunny Senior Day celebration for the UCSB men’s water polo team rapidly became a cloudy debacle as Long Beach State embarrassed a lifeless Gaucho squad, 10-5.
The 49ers (7-6 overall, 1-4 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) have thoroughly dominated UCSB (6-8 overall, 2-4 MPSF) for the last two years, and this weekend was no exception. The Gauchos’ last victory against LBSU was in 1999 at the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Championship at Irvine. Since then, the 49ers have won five straight, and have not lost at Campus Pool since 1997.
Instead of the physical, neck-and-neck battle many Gaucho fans were expecting, a small contingent of Long Beach supporters were treated to a rout in which the 49ers scored six unanswered goals in the first quarter of play.
“I think because it was Senior Day, there were a lot of unexpected emotions that affected the way some of us approached the game,” junior driver Dave Letts said. “Obviously, in the first quarter, we weren’t ready to play.”
Unfortunately for the Gauchos, the 49ers were ready to play, and scored on three of their first four possessions to jump to an early 3-0 lead. Before the quarter had ended, Long Beach had converted three more goals, leaving the Gauchos with a staggering 6-0 deficit.
Senior driver Amit Seker opened the second quarter with a counter-attack goal, and it looked as if the Gauchos might have harnessed some kind of momentum. However, Long Beach junior Aaron Holloway’s fourth goal of the contest was followed by a slow, arching lob from 49er senior driver Justin Jewell that seemed to wrest the hearts from Gaucho players and fans alike.
Frustrated UCSB Head Coach Joe O’Brien said that his players “were irresponsible and lacked energy, especially in the first quarter.” Indeed, a six-goal deficit is almost insurmountable to overcome for any team. UCSB actually outscored the 49ers 5-4 for the remainder of the contest, but they fell well short of Long Beach’s final tally.
Former Gaucho player, and friend of current UCSB players, Scott Miller – a starting driver for Long Beach – was disappointed the match wasn’t closer, but had no complaints about the victory.
“I thought it would go to overtime,” Miller said. “I’m happy that we won, but it is too bad that the fans couldn’t enjoy a close contest like we usually have with these guys.”
One positive aspect UCSB can glean from Sunday’s match is that the loss doesn’t count against their MPSF record.
Aside from Stanford’s dominance of the league, there really is no clear-cut runner-up thus far this season. With only a few weeks left, UCSB still has league matches with UCLA and Long Beach. Winning those games would give the underachieving Gauchos precious momentum going into the season’s true test of mettle, November’s MPSF Championship.