The Friday after Thanksgiving is generally regarded as the start of the holiday shopping season and the UCSB men’s water polo team will be in the market for a strong postseason run as they head to Irvine for the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament.
Having just wrapped up their regular season with a loss to #9 Pepperdine, the #6 Gauchos (19-13 overall, 3-5 in the MPSF) will be the fifth seed in the eight-team field of competitive conference teams. Santa Barbara will square off against #4 Stanford (15-7, 5-3 in the MPSF), which it faced earlier this season in an exciting double-overtime thriller that ended in an 11-10 road win for the Cardinal.
“This is everything we’ve worked for all season and we’ve put ourselves in a good position,” Head Coach Wolf Wigo said. “It’s up to us to have a good, hard week of practice.”
On Sunday, the Gauchos played their final game of the regular season against Pepperdine in front of the home crowd at Campus Pool. The Waves scored early and often, taking a 6-3 lead into halftime until they dominated the third quarter, outscoring UCSB four goals to one. Unwilling to disappoint the home crowd, the Gauchos showed they had some fight left for the fourth quarter. Santa Barbara opened the quarter with three unanswered goals and forced the Waves’ lead down to three goals. The comeback effort fell short, however, as Pepperdine eventually held on for an 11-9 win.
“We did a few things wrong in the Pepperdine game that we need to address,” Wigo said. “We’ll also see the video from the Stanford game to see what kinds of things we did well in that game.”
The Gauchos previously faced Stanford this season on Oct. 22 at Campus Pool. After UCSB rallied to tie the game in regulation and then in the first overtime period, the match came down to a second sudden-death overtime. Stanford was able to suck the oxygen out of a frenzied crowd with the game-winning goal just 45 seconds into the period.
“We know we can play with [Stanford] and we know we can beat them,” Wigo said.
No matter what Friday’s result will be, this season has been a major turnaround for Santa Barbara. Last season – Wigo’s first as head coach – UCSB finished with a 13-7 overall record, and an 0-8 record in the MPSF, missing out on postseason play. This season, the Gauchos narrowly missed out on their first 20-win regular season since 1990 and claimed the fifth seed in the highly competitive MPSF.
“We’re ahead of where I expected to be [at the beginning of the season],” Wigo said. “This is definitely something I thought we could accomplish, but we’re not just looking to win against Stanford; we want to win the whole tournament. That’s our goal.”