“Five, four, three, two, one,” shouts UCSB men’s water polo team goalie Jon Bonafede from the other side of the pool, keeping his teammates aware of the shot clock. Bonafede, a junior hailing from Alta Loma, Calif., is playing his first year in the Gaucho goal after redshirting last year.
Bonafede transferred two years ago from Mt. San Antonio College, where he had 625 saves in 2002 and was twice honored as All-American. He had a large interest in coming to UCSB to play water polo, and UCSB had an interest in him as well.
“It came down to UCSB or Pepperdine, and I went on two recruitment trips and when I met the team, I knew it. I loved the guys. I knew I was going to fit in, and I saw a place for me,” Bonafede said.
UCSB is a member of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, a league that includes many of the top water polo powers in the nation, including #1 UCLA, #2 Stanford and #3 USC. This year’s #4 ranking for Santa Barbara marks the highest national ranking in some time for the program. Bonafede and the Gauchos are swimming with some pretty big fish and holding their own,] defeating such teams as San Diego and Cal, beating the latter in a game that went into double overtime and saw Bonafede with 18 saves.
“He ranks with the top goalies in the nation. I’d choose Jon over somebody else any day,” UCSB Head Coach Joe O’Brien said. “In terms of athleticism, Jon is one of the superior athletes in the country. He has a long, slender body that helps him to be a good goalie.”
It has been said that Bonafede is one of the best, if not the best, goalies in the MPSF and possibly the nation. Bonafede currently leads the MPSF with 210 saves on the season, but doesn’t give the rankings or statistics much thought.
“My peers and family remind me, but I honestly don’t pay too much attention to it. It feels good when they tell me I get a lot of saves. That’s not the most important thing to me – it’s a team sport and I’m totally geared toward that,” Bonafede said.
Bonafede used his redshirt year last year to build himself up physically and become familiar with the high standard of play at the Division I MPSF level. The year of preparation made him even more eager to get in front of the net.
“The redshirt year made Jon really excited to get back into the pool. It made him that much more fired up to play,” O’Brien said. “Jon’s had a number of good games for us. When we’ve broken down on defense, he’s been able to bail us out.”
The Gauchos are enjoying a higher degree of success than they did last year with their wins already surpassing last season’s record, and Bonafede brings a positive attitude and work ethic to games and practices.
“Jon is a really nice guy. He really likes to have fun, and he’ll make practices a whole lot more entertaining. But at the same time, he brings a level of intensity and focus that everyone else picks up on,” freshman back-up goalie James Street said. “What’s different about him is that he has really high expectations for himself – probably higher expectations than anyone has for him.”
Bonafede is debating bringing his high expectations to the next level to join teammates Brian Alexander and Andrew Schoneberger, who are looking to train with the national team. Regardless of his decision, Bonafede knows water polo will remain in his life.
“I can see myself doing that and potentially going to the Olympics. It’s a pretty good opportunity because I have two teammates and a coach who are very encouraging. It’s a huge decision, once you make that there’s not much room for anything else but polo,” Bonafede said. “I can definitely see myself coaching in the future. I don’t see myself ever not being involved with [water] polo.”
In the meantime, Bonafede and the Gauchos will take on the #1 UCLA Bruins Saturday at Campus Pool as they continue their quest for MPSF gold.