Confidence is an important ingredient for any team to be successful, and for the #6 UCSB men’s water polo team, that confidence level is on the rise.

The Gauchos (16-11 overall, 1-3 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) are riding high after earning their first conference victory of the season last Saturday against #8 Pacific. This weekend they return home to face #12 Long Beach and then travel to Irvine where they will take on the #11 Anteaters in a pair of conference games. Both matches are crucial for UCSB’s hopes to make it to the MPSF tournament with a decent seeding.

“It’s going to be two very tough games but we feel we can win both of them,” Head Coach Wolf Wigo said. “It’s probably the biggest weekend of the season for us.”

Considering that UCSB was winless in conference play last season, last Saturday’s 9-6 road victory over Pacific was hard-earned and a long time coming. The victory came at a good time for the Gauchos, as they are entering this final stretch of the season with four of their last five games against MPSF opponents.

“[The win over Pacific] was huge,” Wigo said. “It was a conference game against a team ranked ahead of us and the win was a great confidence boost.”

The win over the Tigers and their dramatic and heartbreaking double-overtime 10-11 loss against Stanford two weeks ago have left the Gauchos steadily climbing up the national rankings. Last week they earned a season-high seventh-place ranking, and this week they once again improved a spot at sixth.

“Our confidence is probably at an all-time high right now,” Wigo said. “The polls just came out and we’re ranked sixth, which is the highest we’ve been all season, so we’ve just got to go out there and hold onto that.”

With Santa Barbara playing at arguably its most competitive level of the season, a rowdy home crowd will be expected at Campus Pool on Saturday for the match against Long Beach. The bleachers were packed for the aforementioned Stanford match, and the loud Gaucho fans gave the team a huge boost, even though they came out on with the short-end of the stick. The match against Long Beach is just as important, as a win would give the Gauchos their second MPSF victory of the season.

“We really need to beat Long Beach; that pretty much guarantees us a spot in the tournament,” Wigo said.

The Gauchos have played Sunday’s opponent, Irvine, three times this season, though this is the first match that will count toward the teams’ conference records. They last played each other at the Southern California Tournament nearly three weeks ago, with Irvine scoring the game-winning goal in the last two minutes of the game to get the 8-7 win. UCSB won the teams’ two other meetings.

The action gets underway Saturday, when the home match against Long Beach tips off at 2 p.m. at Campus Pool.