Emotions ran high on Senior Day for the UCSB men’s water polo game against Cal, but in the end the Gauchos dug themselves too big of a whole to climb out of. The #1 Bears (22-2 overall, 6-0 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) survived a second-half surge from #7 UCSB (17-10, 2-3 MPSF) to escape with a 10-8 victory.
For the second time in three weeks, the Gauchos outplayed the top team in the nation for most of the contest, and for the second time in three weeks, the Gauchos left Campus Pool with a feeling of disappointment at a lost opportunity.
“No one’s happy right now,” said Head Coach Wolf Wigo. “We know we can beat that team. They were able to get a couple of counter-attack goals. We went in at halftime, fixed that, and out-played them the rest of the game. That was some of the best water polo we have played for the season. We just have to put that effort together for four quarters.”
UCSB was able to put the first goal on the board early in the first period when sophomore utility Zsombor Vincze’s scored the first of his three goals. Cal responded with two goals of its own before the Gauchos tied it at two with an overpowering strike in close from sophomore 2-meter Jesse Tootell which riled up the capacity crowd. From there, the Bears would show their dominance by taking control of the game in the second quarter. Using quick counter attacks and a balanced offensive attack, Cal went on a 5-1 run to close out the half with a 7-3 advantage.
Wigo managed to make the halftime adjustments necessary to get the Gauchos back into the game. Freshman utility Milos Golic, senior driver Coulson Lantz and Vincze all scored in the third frame to lead the UCSB comeback, cutting the deficit to 9-6. Early in the fourth, the Gauchos faced a big setback when they lost Golic for the match after his third ejection. A visibly emotional and emphatic Golic was clearly unhappy with the officiating and his inability to help his team in a crucial situation.
“Of his three kick outs, two were BS calls,” said Wigo. “That’s like kicking Jordan out of the game. He wants to play and he wants to win.”
The Gauchos managed to pull within two early in the fourth when Vincze capped off his third consecutive hat trick with a six-on-five strike. It was a defensive struggle from there as the two squads traded lone goals in the final 6:51 of play. UCSB had its chances late, but failed to capitalize with the game in the balance.
It was a bittersweet final home game for Lantz, senior 2-meter Matt Dale, senior driver Ross Sinclair and senior goalie Rick Wright. The Gauchos put up a tough fight against the top-ranked team in the nation, and outplayed them for the entire second half, but fell short of victory. The four seniors were honored before Sunday’s game with a short ceremony.
Playing their best polo of the season, the Gauchos now hit the road for a pair of tough weekend games. They will take on #2 UCLA (17-5, 3-2 MPSF) on Saturday before heading to #8 Long Beach State (16-10, 2-4 MPSF) for a Sunday matchup.