The waters of Southern California were anything but warm and friendly for the UCSB men’s water polo team this weekend. Fifteenth-ranked Santa Barbara dropped its first Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) match 11-5 to #5 Pepperdine on Saturday before losing 10-5 to #7 UC Irvine on Sunday.
“It was a very disappointing weekend. We didn’t convert enough of our six-on-fives to win,” senior driver Bret DeMuth said. “Irvine and Pepperdine are extremely good teams; we didn’t play up to our potential like we should have.”
The Waves (10-4 overall, 1-1 in the MPSF) got on the board first, scoring less than a minute into the game, and were able to tack on three more before UCSB (7-7 overall, 0-1 MPSF) could put one through. With just five seconds to go in the first period, Gaucho senior driver Ramiro Saldain – who was third on the team in goals last year – put away his first goal of the season.
The Waves took a 7-4 advantage into the half, thanks in part to senior guard Jesse Smith, who took off scoring three consecutive goals in the second and third periods. Smith has already amassed 26 goals at just the start of conference play.
“[Smith] is such a dominant player,” DeMuth said. “Defensively he was able to shut down anyone on our team.”
Sophomore left-hander Robbie Bauer led Santa Barbara with two goals. Pepperdine scored on three of its six-man advantage plays, giving it the decisive victory and its first MPSF win of the season. Senior goalie and MPSF Co-Player Player of the Week Ben Tait had six saves for Pepperdine.
At the Anteater Aquatics Complex in non-conference action Sunday, the Gauchos could not overcome Irvine’s four goals in both the first and second periods, dropping the match 10-5. Despite freshman driver Travis Watts’ two goals in the first period, UCSB went into the half down 8-2.
Although Santa Barbara outscored Irvine 2-1 in the fourth period, the deficit was too large to erase. Gaucho sophomore keeper James Street made nine saves while Irvine senior goalie Joe Wynne blocked four. Two-meter Tim Hutten paced Irvine with four goals.
“We started to play a lot better in the second half than we did in the first. We’re definitely starting to play more as a team,” Street said. “This weekend was good, we’re a young team and we need the experience. The better the teams we play the better we’ll be able to play.”
The Gauchos will join other MPSF teams in Berkeley, Calif. next weekend for the NorCal Tournament.