The mountain just keeps getting higher for the UCSB men’s water polo team.
The Gauchos will play in one of their last four games this regular season versus the #1 UCLA Bruins for a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation matchup at Campus Pool on Saturday.
The teams have yet to face off this year, but UCLA leads the series 80-16-1 and beat Santa Barbara twice last year. The Gauchos (17-8 overall, 2-3 MPSF) suffered defeats last weekend at the hands of Long Beach State and #2 Stanford while the Bruins (18-2, 5-0) are riding a 13-game winning streak, their longest in eight years.
“The UCLA team defense is always very good, always very fast; they get up and down the pool very well. Their goalie’s good – they just don’t have weaknesses,” UCSB Head Coach Joe O’Brien said.
Bruin senior attacker and Olympian Brett Ormsby leads UCLA with 51 goals, enough for second place in the MPSF, on top of 24 steals.
“He’s actually not the biggest guy, but he’s a great shooter and is a very smart player who has become a good defender,” O’Brien said. “He’s the quintessential go-to player.”
The Bruins beat Stanford last Saturday at home by a score of 7-4 with help from their goalie Joseph Axelrod, who had a career-high 14 saves in his 300th stop. Axelrod was awarded the MPSF/Mikasa Player of the Week award this week for his performance in the win over Stanford and in their 11-6 victory over Long Beach State on Sunday.
Junior driver Ramiro Saldain led UCSB with three goals Saturday in the Long Beach State match that went into triple overtime. Junior utility Chris Gronow also led with four goals on the weekend. The Cardinal shut out the Gaucho offense in the first and fourth quarters of Sunday’s game and scored seven goals before Santa Barbara could even score one.
“We feel like we haven’t gotten enough production out of our offense – that offense has been our worst defense,” O’Brien said.
With limited games left in the season for all teams, everyone is looking to win, especially when the team that wins the MPSF Tournament gets an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The higher the Gauchos finish this season, the higher their seed in the tournament and the better chance of advancing in the tournament. Before they get ahead of themselves, the Gauchos must finish the season strong.
“The guys have now had enough of not playing as well as we know we can, so what’s motivating us right now is that we want to play good water polo,” O’Brien said.
The match begins at 2 p.m. at Campus Pool.