It was a busy Thanksgiving break for the #6 UCSB men’s water polo team, as it ended its season at the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament.
The fifth-seeded Gauchos (21-14 overall) failed to capture a win over fourth-seeded #4 Stanford (17-9), losing their first-round game 12-9. In the consolation bracket, Santa Barbara defeated both #11 Irvine (10-21) and #7 Pacific (16-17) to come away with a respectable fifth place in the tough event. Although the Gauchos finished the season with their best record since 1990, they did not qualify for the NCAA tournament.
UCSB’s first-round clash with Stanford was a rematch of one of the best matches the Gauchos have played all season, an 11-10 double-overtime thriller that the Cardinal won at Campus Pool. Like that match just over a month ago, Friday’s match with Stanford was close and competitive throughout. After the Cardinal held a 3-2 lead at the end of the first quarter, the two teams played evenly for the next two periods, with Stanford taking an 8-7 lead into the fourth. The game got away from UCSB in the fourth, as Stanford outscored the squad 4-2 en route to the 12-9 victory.
“They really played great,” Head Coach Wolf Wigo said. “It was 8-7 going into the fourth, so I thought we really had a chance to win. It would have been a great upset, but we came back and had two great games.”
The Gauchos played their second match against Irvine, who hosted the tournament. It was the fifth time the teams played each other all season, and Santa Barbara was looking for a 4-1 record against the Anteaters. Irvine took a 3-2 lead over the Gauchos at the end of the first period, but UCSB came back in a big way in the second, outscoring the Anteaters 5-2. Freshman Tamas Donauer’s five goals proved to be the difference in the game, as the teams played evenly in the second half with Santa Barbara eventually coming away with a 13-11 win that advanced the Gauchos to the fifth-place game.
In the fifth-place matchup, UCSB went up against Pacific, which it defeated on the road in Stockton earlier this season. The Gauchos again had a dominant second quarter, outscoring the Tigers 5-2 to take a 10-6 lead into halftime. Santa Barbara withstood a run by the Tigers in the third quarter and eventually held on for the 15-12 win to take fifth place overall.
With the two wins, the Gauchos finished the season with an overall record of 21-14, their best since 1990. Despite not qualifying for the NCAA tournament this season, the fact that UCSB’s roster featured no seniors – and will not lose any of its players this year – can produce nothing but a positive outlook for the team’s future.
“It was a great year,” Wigo said. “This is the best season since 1990 that this team has had, so these guys should be really proud, but we can do even better next year.”