When one thinks of the ’70s one usually remembers Watergate, Star Wars, disco and Club 57. Right up there in history, undermined by the aforementioned historic events, is UCSB’s most significant athletics accomplishment in its history – its lone NCAA title.
The only NCAA sanctioned athletic team ever to be crowned as national championswhile in Gaucho blue and gold was the 1979 men’s water polo team. Spearheading the championship team was goalkeeper Craig Wilson, who occupied the spot between the pipes during their title run.
“(Wilson) was this goofy guy who came down to Santa Barbara,” Santa Barbara News-Press Staff Writer John Zant said. “He wasn’t even planning on competing.”
Wilson was good enough not only to lead UCSB to its only NCAA title, but also to hold down the goalkeeper spot on three United States Olympic teams. During his tenure on the national team, Wilson won two silver medals.
“He was just an exceptional athlete,” Zant said.
Not bad for someone who hadn’t even considered playing water polo.
In the first half of the ’70s, UCSB men’s basketball was an annual contender. In 1970 its squad put up a 20-6 record and only had two losses in league play.
“That team gave UCLA a good run for their money back when they played at Rob Gym,” Zant said.
That John Wooden-led UCLA team went on to win the National Championship. Halfway through the’70s, however, the Gauchos hit a rough patch and in turn fell into one of the darker holes in Santa Barbara sports history. After a very successful career coaching at Santa Barbara City College, which included two straight championships, Ed Debaney debuted at UCSB with five straight losing seasons. Athletics became so bleak during the latter half of the ’70s that many thought Gaucho sports would have to be demoted to Division II in order to stay competitive.
Football fans of the ’70s endured the same football-induced misery that present UCSB students face – the only difference being that fans during the ’70s got just a taste of what football was like at Harder Stadium. 1971 was the last year during the ’70s that the team was able to play before succumbing to the same economic downfalls that eclipsed the team for the second time in the early ’90s. The first game at Harder during their farewell tour was against the heavily favored and annual powerhouse University of Washington. After the Husky kickoff, the Gauchos marched downfield and scored on their opening drive to take a quick 7-0 lead.
“They came off the field waving their hands everywhere like they had won the game,” Zant said. “They ended up losing the game 65-7.”
Their next game they got trounced in Tennessee by the Vols 48-6. Their final season was anything but exciting – they ended up with a dismal record of 3-8. They did, however, win the final game against their biggest rival at the time, Santa Clara. Their best player was stellar tight end Mike Martz. Martz went on to transfer to Fresno State and currently is the Head Coach of the National Football League’s St. Louis Rams. Ultimately, financial constraints forced UCSB football to shut down.
“It’s still a really controversial subject,” Zant said. “A lot of people are still really upset about losing football in Santa Barbara.
Gaucho volleyball during the ’70s was not only strong, but a hot spot for UCSB students to spend their night lives. Both the men’s and women’s volleyball teams played in Rob Gym.
“We had to turn away students every night,” current women’s volleyball Head Coach Kathy Gregory said.
Turning students away is a subject foreign to current UCSB athletes, who frequently have to play in front of empty arenas and barren fields. For two years in a row the men’s volleyball team was favored to win the NCAA championship – and for two years in a row they fell to our counterparts south of UCLA in the finals. Back in the mid-’70s during their ascension into the volleyball elite, the catch saying of “Gaucho Choke” was frequently mumbled around the central coast. In 1974 during the national championship match Santa Barbara had the Bruins on the ropes with a 2-1 lead in Rob Gym. UCSB then lost the next three games and lost their hopes of being national champions. They finished that season with an overwhelming 40-4 overall mark. Despite compiling a 45-2 record the following year, the Gauchos still couldn’t shake memories of their collapse the year before as they dropped to UCLA again in the title, only this time in Los Angeles.
“That was really the apex of UCSB volleyball,” Zant said.