The UCSB men’s water polo team hopes its biggest celebration this Halloween weekend will come from two Mountain Pacific Sports Federation victories against Long Beach State on Saturday and Stanford on Sunday at Campus Pool.
The Gauchos (17-8 overall, 2-1 MPSF) lost to USC on Oct. 23, only to defeat Loyola Marymount 6-3 the next day, and are currently tied with the 49ers for third place in the MPSF. Stanford and UCLA, both undefeated, stand atop the rankings. With just six games remaining in UCSB’s season, the Gauchos have to be on their game in all MPSF matchups.
“All the games from this point forward have big implications,” UCSB Head Coach Joe O’Brien said. “Stanford is about as good as they get, and Long Beach State, they’re improving really quickly. [They] would like nothing better than to come in and beat us at home.”
Long Beach State leads the Gauchos 40-35, and although the teams have not met this season, the 49ers defeated Santa Barbara in both matchups last year. Junior two-meter Brett McCleave leads Long Beach State with 32 goals, 18 of which he scored in the past seven games. Similar to Gaucho junior goalie Jon Bonafede, junior 49er goalie Thomas Onyshko had a high number of saves in the Beach’s overtime loss to Cal.
On Sunday, Stanford brings to UCSB the MPSF/Mikasa Player of the Week winner and recent Olympian Tony Azevedo, who is tied for first in team scoring with Thomas Hopkins. Azevedo and Hopkins have 42 goals each on the year in 16 and 17 games, respectively. Azevedo is also tied for first place in goals scored in the MPSF. Not far behind is Gaucho senior defender Brian Alexander, who has 48 goals in 23 games, good for eighth place in the MPSF. Another Gaucho MPSF leader is Bonafede, who is in first place with 173 saves in 18 games, 24 goals ahead of second-place leader Onyshko. The Gauchos hope to keep the ball and pressure on Onyshko.
“We’ve been spending a lot of time on having an offense that’s a lot more mobile and having more communication and being more cohesive,” O’Brien said. “We’re a team that can score off shots from the outside when everyone’s involved, and we’re creating opportunities and forcing defensives to honor us.”
The Gauchos have already surpassed last year’s win total of 14, and look to match the old record of 19 wins or create a new record of their own. The ultimate goal for this year is to advance deep into the MPSF Tournament, but Santa Barbara will need these victories over difficult teams in order to do so.
“This year’s not over. It’s been a very good year, and the guys have a lot to feel that they’ve accomplished so far – but no matter what we’ve accomplished until now, it’s not going to feel that great if we don’t finish out the year improving, playing at a high level and beating these teams that we have in front of us,” O’Brien said.
Both games will begin at 2 p.m. at Campus Pool.