A lot of this school’s students know what it is like to recover from a rough and rowdy weekend, and that is exactly what the #7 UCSB men’s water polo team will be trying to do in its pair of road games this weekend.
The Gauchos (15-10 overall, 0-2 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) return to the pool after two highly competitive home games last weekend: a 10-9 victory over #9 St. Francis and a hard fought 10-11 double-overtime loss to #4 Stanford. This weekend, Santa Barbara will travel to Stockton and Berkeley to play conference matches against #6 Pacific and #2 Cal, respectively.
“We definitely want to pick up one and maybe two games this weekend,” UCSB Head Coach Wolf Wigo said. “We’re confident and we know we can play with them.”
The two games last weekend were arguably the best UCSB has played all season, despite the 1-1 result. Because of their efforts, the Gauchos earned a season-high seventh place in the national rankings.
“This is the highest we’ve been ranked all season so we’re definitely feeling more and more confident,” Wigo said.
Sunday’s match against Stanford was an exciting treat for the fans at Campus Pool but a heartbreaking loss for the Gauchos. After two last-minute efforts to tie the game at the end of the fourth quarter and the second overtime period, UCSB was able to push the game to sudden death overtime. The Cardinal sent the Santa Barbara fans and players home disappointed with a goal that sailed past junior goalkeeper Rick Wright in the first minute of the period. Despite the loss, however, a confidence boost has to be gained from pushing the fourth-ranked team in the nation to its limit.
“Right after the game, everyone was disappointed that we lost,” Wigo said. “But after everything settles down, we realize that it was a great game and we feel pretty good about ourselves.”
It is never an easy weekend schedule-wise in the MPSF, and this weekend is no different as it marks the second consecutive week the Gauchos will play two higher-ranked opponents. UCSB will face Pacific (14-9, 2-1 MPSF) Saturday for the first time this season in a conference showdown. With only six MPSF games remaining for the Gauchos, it will be crucial for Santa Barbara to get into the win column in order to return to the MPSF tournament, and a matchup with the team ranked one spot ahead of UCSB may be the perfect opportunity to do it.
On Sunday, the Gauchos will try to upset #2 California. Cal (19-3, 2-1 in the MPSF) has been putting together a stellar season in the pool, as its three losses have only been to Stanford and top-ranked USC, which has beaten the Bears twice. In order to come away with a win this weekend, UCSB will have to be ready for a physical challenge.
“Cal and [Pacific] are both very physical games, so we’ve really been trying to emphasize the physicality of the workouts,” Wigo said.