The #5 UCSB men’s water polo team and #6 UC San Diego will rekindle their rivalry Friday afternoon.
The Gauchos are fresh off of playing the Tritons on Sunday at the Northern California Tournament, where Santa Barbara’s 8-7 victory gave UCSB a fifth-place 3-1 finish. Santa Barbara’s 13-5 record is just one win shy of its win total last season, and the #5 ranking is the highest the program has seen since 1999.
The game this Friday will not be easy, especially with both teams hungering for victory.
“I think that the bottom line is that they’re confident against us, and I think they’re going to come up really expecting to take it to us,” UCSB Head Coach Joe O’Brien said.
In the NorCal Tournament, the two teams traded goals equally with the exception of the first quarter where the Gauchos scored one more, giving them the advantage in the end. Freshman utility Robbie Bauer and junior driver Ramiro Saldain scored two goals each in the UCSD game, representative of the shared scoring over the weekend.
“What you see in our balanced scoring is the system of scoring as opposed to individuals creating their own goals, which is good and is something that we need to reinforce and focus on,” O’Brien said.
On the defensive side of things, junior goalkeeper Jon Bonafede had a standout weekend with saves in the double digits in two games – stats good enough to earn him the ucsbgauchos.com Player of the Week award. Santa Barbara’s defense hopes to keep the shots on goal to a minimum this weekend.
“Jon’s had a number of good games for us,” O’Brien said. “When we’ve broken down on defense, he’s been able to bail us out. Our goalie’s only going to be as good as the defense in front of him.”
As the season progresses, the players are becoming more comfortable with each other, aiding their push for a successful season.
“Our younger players are getting familiar with the system and the older players are getting familiar with the younger players, and we’re starting to get some chemistry and hopefully that keeps going and building,” O’Brien said.
UCSB hopes its chemistry will stay steady this weekend against the threat of the Titons, whose top three scorers – junior driver Chris Eicholz (36 goals), freshman driver Adnan Jerkovic (34) and junior two-meter Chris Finegold (34) – will be looking to up their season totals.
The game might also serve as a glimpse of a possible postseason matchup at the end of the season. Only 10 more games remain in the season, many of which will be played against top teams and not make for smooth waters for the Gauchos.
The Triton-Gaucho matchup begins at 3 p.m. at Campus Pool.