After a disappointing performance at last weekend’s Southern California Tournament, the #9 UCSB men’s water polo team returns home this weekend for a pair of important matches.
The Gauchos (14-9 overall, 0-1 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) will face off against #8 St. Francis on Friday night at Campus Pool, then play another home match Sunday against conference rival #4 Stanford. UCSB looks to get back on the winning track after losing three out of four games at the competitive SoCal Tournament.
Santa Barbara was just one of the 12 ranked teams competing in the tournament, and it failed to turn any heads with its 10th-place finish. The Gauchos had a difficult first day of action, as they lost their first two games to #10 Irvine and the tournament’s host team, USC. Pushed into the consolation bracket, UCSB used a strong second half to defeat #16 Air Force 10-6, but lost the ninth-place match in a 10-8 heartbreaker to #7 Loyola Marymount. USC finished as the tournament champion, defeating #2 Cal in the first place match 6-5. With the win, USC extends its winning streak to an astounding 34 matches.
“We played good in two games and we played not awful, but not as good as we could have in the other games,” UCSB Head Coach Wolf Wigo said. “Our five-on-six defense was a little weak and we got a lot of goals scored on us from the wings.”
Friday evening, the Gauchos will return to Campus Pool for the first time in nearly three weeks to face St. Francis in a nonconference showdown. The match will be the second of a three-game West Coast swing for the Terriers, in which they will also play USC and California Baptist University.
“Playing against St. Francis is just a good game,” Wigo said. “They’re ranked #8 and we’re #9, so it’s going to be a tough, hard-fought game.”
Sunday, Santa Barbara will play its second conference match of the season against Stanford. The Cardinal squad was also participating in the SoCal Tournament, and it fared quite well, defeating #6 Pacific for fifth place overall. The upcoming match will be the first and only time the Gauchos see Stanford this season, though the teams could meet farther down the road should UCSB make the MPSF Tournament at the conclusion of the regular season. The chances of that happening could be greatly bolstered if the Gauchos get their conference season headed in the right direction with a win Sunday.
“It’s always good to play here at home,” Wigo said. “We’ve had good crowds so far, so hopefully we’ll get a lot of support from the fans.”
The match against Stanford is just the first of six straight conference matches for UCSB. In total, the Gauchos have just nine matches remaining before the MPSF tournament, so doing well in this upcoming stretch of games will be critical if Santa Barbara is to return to the postseason for the first time in two years.