The UCSB men’s water polo team hung with the top 20 teams in the nation this weekend, taking fifth place at the Northern California Tournament.

The Gauchos split their Saturday games, winning the first over Princeton 8-7 and falling in the second to USC 11-6. They then defeated UC Irvine and UC San Diego on Sunday.

“We were just trying to get better each game, and I think we accomplished that,” UCSB Head Coach Joe O’Brien said.

The Gauchos started the weekend by netting two goals over Princeton in the first quarter and shutting out the Tigers until the second quarter. Junior driver Ramiro Saldain started his weekend right by scoring two of his six tournament goals against Princeton. The teams exchanged goals 10 times in the third and fourth quarters, but the Gauchos would ultimately emerge with an 8-7 victory.

That afternoon, Santa Barbara faced off against #2 USC and battled the Trojans evenly in the first quarter. Heading into the second quarter, the score was tied at two, but USC took control of the match, scoring four goals to the Gauchos’ two. Trojan two-meter Juraj Zatovic led the match with three goals, taking USC to an 11-6 victory.

“We played USC really well; the game was closer than the score,” O’Brien said. “The SC game was a good building block. UCI was the best game we’ve played all year.”

UCSB out-scored #5 Irvine 9-6 in the Gauchos’ second victory in the tournament, a change from the past two games in which UCI had out-scored UCSB 11-5. Four Santa Barbara players – sophomore driver Ross Sinclair, senior utility Brian Alexander, senior driver Andrew Schoneberger and sophomore two-meter Matt Dale – helped the Gauchos to victory by netting two goals each. Junior driver Dreason Barry led the Anteaters, scoring half of their goals. Gaucho junior goalkeeper Jon Bonafede recorded his tournament-high 12 saves.

“I think we had really good defense, and, when it broke down, Bonafede was there,” O’Brien said.

Bonafede and the Gauchos faced one more challenge on Sunday afternoon against UC San Diego. The Gauchos would win, but it would not be easy.

“By the last game, we could tell that the guys were getting tired,” O’Brien said. “It wasn’t a pretty game, but we played with good composure.”

UCSB jumped to a 3-2 lead in the first quarter, which proved to be important, as the teams both scored two goals in the second, one in the third and two in the fourth. Bonafede had seven saves, while Saldain and freshman utility Robbie Bauer led Santa Barbara with two goals each.

Their 3-1 tournament finish leaves the Gauchos with a 13-5 overall record heading into the second half of the year. Friday afternoon at Campus Pool will be a repeat of the UCSD matchup, as the Gauchos and Tritons face off at 3 p.m.