Last season was all about rebuilding for the #10 UCSB men’s water polo team, and for the 2006 season the Gauchos (10-3 overall) look to break ground on a winning foundation.

Last season, behind the leadership of first-year head coach Wolf Wigo, the Gauchos finished #13 in the nation with an overall record of 13-17, but finished dead last in the tough Mountain Pacific Sports Federation with an 0-8 conference record. With a steady mix of newcomers and returnees and not one senior on the roster, the chances for UCSB to make waves in the MPSF this season and beyond are much improved.

The MPSF features some of the most competitive teams in the nation, including defending NCAA champion USC and runner-up Stanford. The Gauchos will also have to contend with current top-ranked team Cal as well as perennial powerhouse UCLA. Making the conference tournament in the cutthroat MPSF will be no small feat for UCSB, but it is a realistic way to measure success for this season, as it failed to qualify last year.

Santa Barbara has already played well in the early going of this season, winning the Inland Empire Tournament by going a perfect 5-0 and finishing ninth at the Stanford Invitational with a record of 3-1. The Gauchos also participated in the Triton Invitational hosted by UCSD where they won a preseason match against conference foe Irvine, but fell to San Diego and Loyola Marymount.

Leading the Gauchos early season charge has been junior driver Ross Sinclair, who has posted a stellar 26 goals in just nine games. For his efforts, Sinclair received MPSF Player of the Week accolades, the first Gaucho to do so since 2004.

Sinclair will be vital to UCSB’s offense as it struggled last year, averaging only 7.5 goals per game. That average has already improved thus far, with Santa Barbara netting an average 12.11 goals per game.

In addition to Sinclair, the Gauchos also return their two of their top three top goal scorers from last season – junior drivers Coulson Lantz and Matt Tilburg. The offensive attack for UCSB will also feature some new faces, as they welcome promising freshmen such as driver Tamas Donauer and utility Sean Castillo.

The Gauchos will have a valuable intangible in their goal experience as they welcome back their starting goaltender from the last two seasons, junior Rick Wright, who posted an average of 7.82 saves per game in the 2005 season. Also expecting to see time as back-up goalies will be junior James Street and freshman Michael Robinson.

Pre-season polling has projected UCSB to finish eighth out of nine teams in the MPSF, but with a core of young players at the helm of Wigo’s budding program, the Gauchos can certainly turn heads this season and become a powerhouse in the future.