There will be “hella” games played in Stockton this weekend when 20 of the top men’s water polo teams in the country gather for the Northern California Tournament.
All of the teams in the tournament, including Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) foes USC, Stanford, UCLA, Cal, Irvine and Long Beach State, will play the entire weekend, not facing elimination but competing for rankings.
Santa Barbara (10-4) will begin its weekend facing off against Princeton (10-1). The last time these teams faced off was in the 2002 NorCal Tournament, when the Tigers defeated the Gauchos 12-6. Princeton will battle against Stanford in Palo Alto on Friday evening before traveling east to Stockton. The Tigers just suffered its first loss of the season at the hands of St. Francis last weekend.
“I know their coach well and he runs a solid program. Their kids are big and strong,” UCSB Head Coach Joe O’Brien said. “It will be a good test for us. It will be good to play someone at the senior level.”
Santa Barbara enters the tournament after two victories over Occidental and Chapman last weekend. The games boosted UCSB’s record to 10-4 after a subpar 1-3 showing at the SoCal Tournament the weekend before.
“We want to be better in the NorCal Tournament than in the SoCal Tournament,” O’Brien said. “I was happy with the way our team responded in the second half [of the Chapman game] and we were just really fundamentally sound and had better intensity just to do the right things,” O’Brien said.
Taking the victories over Chapman and Occidental pleased the Gauchos, but their game-by-game approach leaves them nonplused. The Gauchos will try not to let their recent triumphs keep them from realizing the large challenge posed by these top teams.
“This weekend, the games will be more intense, and I think whether we’re successful or not will be a function of our level of intensity as opposed to our level of conditioning,” O’Brien said. “When you get to the point where you play at a high level and you’re comfortable with it … that’s our biggest challenge, and that showed up when we played USC last week. They just have superior intensity and depth and that caught us early on, right away.”
With all of the MPSF teams partaking in this battle of the titans, it will be both a large test for the Gauchos and a preview of the MPSF playoffs. Not only are these athletes some of the best in the country, but several, such as UCLA’s Brett Ormsby and Stanford’s Tony Azevedo, returned to school as Olympians. All games will be held at the University of the Pacific and San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton, and the games will go until 5:30 p.m. Sunday.