The #9 UCSB men’s water polo team got its season moving in the right direction as it won two out of three matches this weekend in Santa Barbara and Malibu.

The Gauchos (12-4 overall) lost a tough match to #4 UC San Diego (14-2) in their home opener on Friday at Campus Pool but rebounded to defeat conference rival #11 Irvine 10-6 on Saturday. The momentum from the win carried over to Sunday’s road match against #13 Pepperdine (4-7), as they defeated the Waves in an 11-10 nail-biter.

“It was good to show the team is coming along,” UCSB Head Coach Wolf Wigo said. “We’re trying to get the team to mesh together; it’s always good to get a confidence boost early in the season.”

Friday’s clash with UC San Diego was the first home match of the year for the Gauchos, and the fans were treated to a hotly contested game. After the Tritons took a 6-4 advantage into the second quarter, the Gauchos’ leading scorer, junior driver Ross Sinclair, kept Santa Barbara within one goal as he netted one of his three goals of the day.

Play continued level as the score eventually reached nine apiece midway through the fourth, but UCSD was finally able to pull away as it mustered a two-goal lead and held on for an 11-9 win.

“After the loss to [UC] San Diego, we were definitely bummed out so we wanted to come out and have a good game [against Irvine],” freshman goalkeeper Michael Robinson said.

Santa Barbara looked to rebound from the loss in its match with Irvine on Saturday. The Gauchos set the tone early, as they scored two quick goals out of the gate. A goal by sophomore driver Michael Machado gave UCSB a 3-0 advantage before the Anteaters rallied for two quick goals at the end of the quarter, bringing the score to 3-2. Aggressive defense pushed the Gauchos’ lead to two goals in the second quarter as freshman Zsombor Vincze scored one of his three goals on a breakaway off a turnover to make the score 5-3 at halftime.

UCSB continued to control the game in the second half, as the Anteaters never got within two goals of the Gauchos. Determined to put the game away in the fourth quarter, UCSB took a 9-6 lead on a goal by Sinclair with 3:20 remaining. Vincze sealed the game as he scored at the 1:40 mark to give the Gauchos a 10-6 win.

“We were in control of the whole game, but we never really pulled away like I wanted to,” Wigo said. “We made a couple of mistakes but we definitely outplayed them.”

Sunday, the Gauchos traveled to Malibu where they faced #13 Pepperdine in the Waves’ home opener. The two teams played a low-scoring, competitive first half that ended in a 3-3 tie, but each team’s offense turned it up in the third and fourth quarters. The teams traded goals in the fourth quarter until the score was tied at ten. With 1:45 remaining, sophomore Ratko Paunovic found the back of the net and the defense was able to hang on, sending UCSB home with an 11-10 victory.

UCSB returns to action Friday when it faces defending national champion #1 USC in a conference road match.