The UCSB men’s water polo team had plenty of reasons to celebrate over this wild weekend after winning its first conference match in nearly two years.
The #7 Gauchos (16-11 overall, 1-3 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) scored a huge 9-6 road upset over #6 Pacific (14-10 overall, 2-2 MPSF) on Saturday, before suffering a 19-6 blowout at the hands of #2 California (21-3, 4-1 MPSF) on Sunday. The win comes at a great time for Santa Barbara, since it just earned its season-high, seventh-place national ranking and it is positioning itself for a run at the MPSF tournament.
“[The win] was huge because we had the letdown last week against Stanford,” junior driver Ross Sinclair, the teams leader in goals in assists, said. “It was a great way to bounce back, and hopefully we can keep moving up in the rankings.”
On Saturday, UCSB traveled to Stockton to square off against Pacific for the first time this season. The game came down to the fourth quarter, as it was close throughout. The teams played a slow first quarter, with neither team getting off to a strong start. Headed into the second quarter in a 1-1 tie, the Gauchos had to turn up the intensity in order to come away with the win. Sophomore driver Miles Price put UCSB on top 3-2 late in the second, but the Tigers were able to tie the game again and the teams went into the half with the score tied at 3-3.
Pacific took the lead early in the third quarter, but the Gauchos caught up each time the Tigers tried to pull away. After Pacific took a 5-4 advantage late in the period, sophomore two-meter Ratko Paunovic scored to get the game to a 5-5 tie headed to the fourth. The fourth quarter was all Gauchos: They scored four straight goals and stifled the Tigers’ offense, putting away the 9-6 victory. The win was the first time the Gauchos had defeated an MPSF opponent since Nov. 20, 2004, and the first regular season conference victory in Head Coach Wolf Wigo’s two-year tenure.
“It was a big win; everyone was pretty fired up because [Pacific is] hard to beat at their home pool,” Sinclair said. “We came out and executed the game plan well and came out on top; it was definitely one of the highlights of the season for us.”
Santa Barbara tried to parlay the momentum from the win into an upset over Cal on Sunday, but the result was a letdown. After the game was tied at 1-1 early in the first, the Bears ran off on a 5-0 run that spilled into the second quarter. Though the game was hardly ever in doubt, the Golden Bears put an exclamation mark on the victory by scoring seven goals in the fourth quarter en route to a 19-6 domination of UCSB.
“I think the key thing is that we don’t let this loss to Cal get to us,” Sinclair said. “We have to bounce back and have a good week of practice.”
Santa Barbara returns home Saturday to face Long Beach State in a conference match that begins at 2 p.m. at Campus Pool. UCSB will then hit the road for a match against UC Irvine on Sunday.