With its spectacular ocean views and former U.S. National team captain as the coach, the UCSB men’s water polo team may feel at home at Pepperdine, but this weekend’s match will be anything but friendly away from the confines of Campus Pool.
The #15 Gauchos (7-5 overall) travel south to take on the #6 Waves (9-3) in the teams’ Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) season openers.
While both head coaches, Santa Barbara’s Wolf Wigo and Pepperine’s Terry Schroeder, captained the U.S. National Team, the Waves boast the superior record and national ranking.
“I’m not confident; I’m hopeful. We definitely can win,” Wigo said. “They just beat the #1 team in the country so they’re a top team and hopefully that will give them a little bit of false confidence and we can hopefully catch them by surprise.”
UCSB has not seen any action in the pool since Sept. 18 when they defeated Redlands on the final day of the Southern California Collegiate Water Polo tournament. It is unclear whether this will benefit Santa Barbara. Pepperdine has played three games in the past week while the Gauchos have rested.
Santa Barbara is still transitioning between seasons with a new coach and nine new players, though most will see playing time this weekend. Youth is the theme so far this season with sophomore driver Coulson Lantz leading the team with 15 goals. Just behind Lantz are freshman driver Mark Knudtsen and sophomore left-hander Robbie Bauer with 10 and 11 goals, respectively.
The only upperclassmen to score thus far are senior driver Bret DeMuth and senior two-meter defender Jarrod Muenter who have combined for seven goals. Senior driver Ramiro Saldain, who scored 28 goals last year, the third highest on the team, has yet to score.
“We’ll be playing a lot of players still, a lot of the team will rotate in, play a couple hard minutes, then come out,” Wigo said. “Pepperdine really isn’t that deep so we’re going to try and wear them down with our bench, they have three really good players and we’ll try and tire them [out].”
The Waves are coming off a 3-1 homestand, which saw them hand the #1 USC its first loss of the season. Pepperdine also boasts the current co-MPSF Player of the Week in senior goalie Ben Tait who notched 10 saves on 14 shots on goal last weekend in the upset victory.
Offensively for the Waves, sophomore guard Grant Miller has 22 goals while sophomore driver Adam Hewko is nipping on his heals with 21.
“We’re definitely the underdog, which we can use to our benefit, we can hopefully come up with a big upset against both teams,” DeMuth said. “Gives us a lot of desire and motivation to go out and beat them at Pepperdine.”
The MPSF match-up begins at noon at Raleigh Runnels Memorial Pool, in Malibu, Calif.