The season goal of the UCSB men’s water polo team is threefold: win, win, win. But it’s taking it one game at a time.
The Gauchos are off to a great start in the 2004 season with a 10-4 record, bolstered this weekend by crushing 14-4 and 19-2 defeats over Chapman and Occidental, respectively. Santa Barbara started off well prior to the weekend’s games, going 8-4 in three tournaments.
“For the most part, we have been playing up to our potential,” UCSB Head Coach Joe O’Brien said. “They started out the season working really hard. We’re really optimistic. We’re not the biggest team, but we have a lot of assets.”
UCSB went 3-1 in the San Diego Invitational and 4-0 in the Inland Empire Classic, but subsequently dropped three of four games in the Southern California Tournament.
“The SD tournament was a pretty good one for us. We played pretty well, especially our defense,” O’Brien said. “The theme last week was to re-focus because I think we got a little bit unfocused in the Inland Empire, and it showed when we got to the SoCal Tournament.”
UCSB hopes its practices have provided the needed intensity as it heads north this weekend for the Northern California Tournament, where the Gauchos will face some of the best teams in the nation.
Santa Barbara will have the chance to beat teams it previously lost to, such as Princeton, as it plays in what senior utility Brian Alexander called the “biggest tournament of the season.”
“The team wants to improve every day and every week, beat teams that we haven’t beat before, finish with a higher national ranking and be in a good position for the postseason,” senior driver Andrew Schoneberger said. “I think that when we’re intense and focused in practice it shows up in the games.”
In order to have a successful season and postseason, UCSB plans to focus on each game as it comes, bringing its intense level of play in practices to games.
“We take one at a time, but we’re trying to win, and we set our goals very high and anything’s possible with these guys” junior goalkeeper Jon Bonafede said.
Winning will not be smooth waters for the Gauchos, as they will face four of the strongest teams in the Pac-10: Stanford, UCLA, Cal and USC. Irvine, Pepperdine and the Trojans all share the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation with the Gauchos and will pose threats to UCSB’s hopes of a happy ending.
“We have the potential to knock anybody off at any given time,” O’Brien said. “I think we hold our own destiny in our hands based on how fundamental we can be and how intense we can play.”
Coming into last weekend, the #10 Gauchos sat in sixth place in the MPSF based on the team’s overall record. Santa Barbara was able to use many of its players this past weekend, giving experience to as many players as possible.
UCSB emphasizes team cohesion as a key factor in its victories.
“Our success will be a function of how well we perform as a group,” O’Brien said. “We don’t have any one player who really can take on a team but we do have the ability to play tough defense.”
The Gauchos are not counting themselves out of the playoff race and will fight for post-season playoff rights until the bitter end.