Berkeley, Calif. – The season ended for the UCSB men’s water polo Sunday with a 5-4 victory over Irvine at Cal’s Speiker Pool. The win gave the Gauchos (9-13, 2-6 MPSF) a seventh-place finish at the season-ending Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Championships. Top-seeded Stanford defeated host Berkeley in Sunday’s title match.
In Friday’s first round matchup against second-seeded UCLA, the Gauchos used their heralded defense to battle the Bruins to 3-1 deficit at halftime. This game could have made the Gauchos season and a win would have assured UCSB a top-four finish. Unfortunately, one goal does not a victory make, as both teams failed to score in the second half and the Gauchos fell 3-1.
In Saturday’s game versus USC, Santa Barbara could not contain the Trojans’ high-powered offense and fell 12-8. Perhaps disheartened by Friday’s loss, UCSB fell behind early to the Trojans and couldn’t quite close the distance. The loss dropped the Gauchos into the seventh-place game against Irvine, hardly where they wanted to be.
Santa Barbara did not disappoint on Sunday, however. The team took an early lead against the Anteaters and refused to lose a game that would be the last for seven UCSB seniors. Two late goals by Irvine made the game closer than it should have been, but a staunch defensive effort to close the match gave the Gauchos their first victory in the MPSF tournament since the 1999 season.
This season finishes far short of the expectations the team set for itself four months ago. There was never any question that this team had talent, but, in the end, it just couldn’t bring it all together. UCSB’s 2-6 league record was marred by four one-goal losses that could have gone either way. Instead of finishing at 7-1 with a #2 seed, the Gauchos were 2-6 and had to face UCLA in the first round.
The UCLA game was perhaps a microcosm of the Gauchos’ season this year. Freshman two-meter set Mark Welch had two shots down the stretch that hit the crossbar and fell an inch short of the goal line. Junior Pat Treman took a lob shot that also hit the bar and stopped short. Had those shots fell, the season would have been made then and there. Instead, UCSB must be content with a victory in its last game and a seventh-place finish.
“We built up so much positive karma this year because we just didn’t get the breaks. In many cases, we played well enough to win but we just didn’t,” UCSB Head Coach Joe O’Brien said. “You don’t notice your luck until it runs out.”
The win over Irvine was impressive considering the Anteaters had scorched the Gauchos just a week earlier. But for the seniors, it was merely a satisfactory finish to a disappointing season. Many of them feel that under the right circumstances, they could have had a much stronger finish. However, if positive karma applies to water polo games, the Gauchos are the team to beat next year.