While its Division I counterparts get most of the headlines, the UCSB men’s club water polo team is quietly putting together a dominant season and, in the process, giving the school yet another club team with hopes of winning a national championship.
The #15 Gauchos (7-5 overall, 2-2 in the Collegiate Water Polo Association Pacific Coast Division) played host to their regional counterparts over the weekend in the CWPA South Regional, eventually losing to Cal Poly in the title game and finishing tied for second with UC San Diego.
UCSB opened the weekend with a 9-7 win over #20 USC, behind three goals from sophomore utility Antoni Chourdi. Later that night, the Gauchos fell to #8 UCLA 7-4, as the Bruins scored four times in the third quarter to grab their only win of the weekend. UCSB got goals from team captain Brian Featherstun, as well as Chourdi, sophomore driver Rodrigo Romero and junior driver Anton Sapoznikov.
The next morning, the Gauchos faced #10 UCSD and took a 5-4 victory on the strength of four goals from sophomore driver Chris Holmblad. Junior goalie Kyle Shobe made the biggest play of the game with a second-half block of a 5-meter shot. The win earned UCSB a shot at #5 Cal Poly in what became an impromptu championship game after both teams came into the game with tournament-leading 2-1 records. Featherstun led the way with a hat trick, but the Mustangs pulled away and beat their rivals 7-6.
After only a couple of years of playing, the Gauchos have quickly risen near the top of the national rankings. With nearly 250 teams represented in CWPA action, UCSB has risen to #15 nationally, with hopes of one day soon becoming the top club team in the country.
“Coaches have told us that we have the most talent in the league, but we’ve only been playing together for a short time,” Featherstun said. “We think we have a shot at winning the league and the national championship if we can pull together as a team.”
The CWPA rules changed this year to allow former Division I players to compete at the club level, leading to a higher level of play and increased competition. UCSB has taken advantage of the rule change, with four players who have Division I experience in their background. Featherstun started the club a couple of years ago, and their success has been staggering considering that four previous version of a UCSB club team have failed.
“So many guys here were burned out, but they still wanted to play water polo,” Featherstun said. “We’re trying to have fun, but it’s still really competitive.”
The Gauchos are next in action on Oct. 20, when they travel to Vallejo for a tournament at the California Maritime Academy. The tournament will be a huge one for UCSB, as they will play #1 UC Davis with a chance to rise further up the national rankings. The Gauchos have played the Aggies twice this season, winning 10-6 in their first meeting and losing 8-4 in the second game.