By Michael Long
This weekend’s Southern California Water Polo Tournament was supposed to be an opportunity for competing teams to size up one another. There was just one problem, nearly all the teams that showed up were already familiar with each other, with most participants in the tournament coming from the top conference in the country – the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.
The #11 UCSB men’s water polo team finished the SoCal Tournament in Irvine in 10th place with a 1-3 record over the two-day stretch. Considering the level of competition, Santa Barbara didn’t fare as poorly as their ranking might appear.
The Gauchos faced #6 UC San Diego first on Saturday. UCSD built a close 5-3 halftime lead and hung on for a tight 6-5 victory, despite three goals from senior two-meter Steve Traverso and a score from both freshman driver Matt Tilburg and sophomore driver Ian Christensen.
In the afternoon game, Santa Barbara stormed out against the top team in the country at game time, the Stanford Cardinal. Stanford sophomore Peter Varellas nailed a power-play goal with only five seconds on the clock to force a 7-7 tie and send the game into overtime. Despite two goals a piece from junior driver Andrew Schoneberger, senior driver Doug Arthur and Christensen, the Cardinal escaped Gaucho fury with a 9-7 win. With two tight matches, the Gauchos walked away with zero wins.
“The Stanford game was one of the best that we’ve played in a number of years here at UCSB,” UCSB Head Coach Joe O’Brien said. “We really had a shot to win that game, we just didn’t finish it.”
Arthur, the fifth-year captain, couldn’t agree more.
“We played very well against Stanford, which is really nice considering they’re the number two team in the country right now,” Arthur said. “We played them really tough.”
The coaching staff worried that the Gauchos would come flat in Sunday’s morning match against the University of the Pacific. Santa Barbara outscored the Tigers 6-1 to begin the match, proving that Saturday’s competitive play was no fluke. UCSB rode three goals from junior utility Brian Alexander and Traverso to a commanding 9-4 victory and send the Gauchos into the ninth place game.
Santa Barbara then faced #7 Irvine, the host of the tournament. After catching the Anteaters at 6-6 on a goal by the fifth-year captain Arthur with 6:10 to play in the fourth quarter, the Gauchos allowed the final three goals of the match.
“It was pretty disappointing, losing to Irvine,” Arthur said. “We think that we played really well and that we probably should have won the game.”
True freshman goalkeeper Rick Wright played very well in net during the grueling four-game weekend tournament. After posting 19 saves in Santa Barbara’s two losses on Saturday, Wright has established himself as one of the premier young goalies in the MPSF and the nation.
The Gauchos take a week off before heading to Stockton for the Northern California Water Polo Tournament, running from Oct. 4-5.