Home will be a welcome sight for the men’s water polo team, which has played all but one of the previous 23 matches on the road. After placing ninth in the Southern California Tournament, the # 8 UCSB Gauchos (16-8 overall, 0-1 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) return home for a weekend set against two tough rivals, #14 Pacific and #1 USC.
The Gauchos beat the Tigers (13-11 overall) just a week ago with five goals from freshman utility Milos Golic. With the season winding down, the Gauchos know that every win these days is crucial with so many teams trying to lock up MPSF tournament bids.
“Friday’s game against UOP is our whole season,” said senior driver Ross Sinclair. “They realize their best shot at making the tournament is if they beat us so they’ll be gunning for us.”
Meanwhile, Saturday’s match is a chance for UCSB to make up for a missed opportunity to make a statement against USC in last weekend’s tournament. However, UCSB failed to win its first round match, ending any chance at playing the top team in the country. USC went on to win its fifth-straight SoCal title while the Gauchos finished ninth. Although the Gauchos won’t overlook Pacific, Sinclair knows that the big story this weekend will be the game against the Trojans.
“Everyone was anxious to play them last week, so I think it will carry over this week,” said Sinclair. “It’s a huge opportunity to show what we’re made of. We get to play the best team in the nation, and hopefully surprise them.”
If the Gauchos are going to pull off the weekend sweep, they will undoubtedly look to some key players to step it up. Sinclair leads the Gauchos in essentially every category with 40 goals, 25 assists, 65 points, 86 shots, 20 steals and 12 blocks. Golic has 52 points in only 14 games, while sophomore utility Zsombor Vincze has been a main contributor all season long. Another player to watch this weekend will be 6-foot-4-inch sophomore driver Jesse Tootell, who Sinclair feels brings important dimension to Campus Pool where one end is only 5 feet 6 inches deep.
The main key to this weekend may end up being the crowd, which gets to be pretty big at a school where you can’t throw a stone without hitting a former high school water polo player.
“Everyone loves playing at home,” Sinclair said. “We always get a huge crowd that is rowdy.”