Sunday will be the last chance for Gaucho fans to cheer on the #6 UCSB men’s water polo team as it hosts its final game of the regular season at 12 p.m. at Campus Pool.

The Gauchos (19-12 overall, 3-4 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) will conclude their regular season schedule with their fourth match of the year versus conference rival #9 Pepperdine (12-17, 1-6 MPSF). It will be the final game at Campus Pool this season, as UCSB will then head to Irvine for the MPSF tournament, which starts Nov. 24.

Last weekend the Gauchos lost a hard-fought conference battle in overtime to #3 UCLA. The game was close throughout, with the Bruins taking a 5-4 lead into the fourth quarter. Santa Barbara fought back to tie the game twice in the final frame, sending the game into overtime. UCLA was able to score with 1:15 remaining in the first overtime period and eventually escaped with the 7-6 win. Later that evening UCSB faced off against #20 California Baptist in a nonconference matchup. Santa Barbara had a dominant second half, during which they outscored the Lancers 5-1, cruising to a 12-7 win.

Junior goalkeeper Rick Wright had a career-high game despite the loss to UCLA, recording a career-best 19 saves. Wright has had a stellar season for the Gauchos in goal, leading the MPSF in save average with 11.1 per game. His stellar play and experience will be invaluable for the Gauchos as they make their return to the postseason.

This weekend’s match against Pepperdine marks the fourth time Santa Barbara will play the Waves this season, but this will be the first official conference match between the two teams. UCSB has came out on the winning end in all of the previous three matches, though they have all been close games. Their most recent clash on Oct. 7 at the Long Beach Mini Tournament was a memorable one for the Gauchos as they made an improbable fourth quarter comeback. UCSB trailed 7-6 in the final period, but exploded for four unanswered goals in less than three minutes to shock the Waves and take control of the game – Santa Barbara eventually escaped with a 10-9 win.

With Sunday’s game comes the end of an impressive regular season for the Gauchos, especially considering the improvement the young team has made from last year. UCSB finished last season, the first under Head Coach Wolf Wigo, with a 13-7 overall record and an 0-8 record in the MPSF, missing out on the eight-team field for the conference tournament. If Santa Barbara can muster a win over Pepperdine, it will give the Gauchos their first 20-win season since 1990.
– Cassie Harris