For the #7 UCSB men’s water polo team, this weekend gives the team an opportunity to make a big move in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation standings. Currently in sixth place in the nine-team conference, Santa Barbara (17-10, 2-3 in the MPSF) will take on third-place #2 UCLA and seventh-place #8 Long Beach State during this weekend’s road trip down south.
Saturday’s matchup with UCLA (17-5 overall, 3-2 MPSF) will be the first meeting of the year between the two clubs, but last season’s overtime loss was a tough pill for UCSB to swallow. This year, the Bruins present a similar challenge to the elite competition the Gauchos have faced in recent weeks. Although it doesn’t have as big of a team as Cal, UCLA is fast, strong and disciplined, with a quick and potent counterattack. Offensively and defensively, the Bruins are led by a pair of sophomores in attacker Scott Davidson and goalie Chay Lapin, who has a 9.27 saves-per-game average.
UCSB will head further south on Sunday to Long Beach to take on the 49ers (16-10, 2-4 MPSF), a team that has beaten the Gauchos twice this year by one-goal margins. Long Beach State’s offensive attack is led by sophomore center Jake Greenwood, who has found the net on 42 occasions.
“Long Beach State plays a similar style as us,” senior driver Ross Sinclair said. “We both play to the level of our competition, meaning they play a lot of one-goal games. With their inconsistency, you don’t know what team you are going to get.”
The 49ers’ inconsistency could be summed up by a mid-October trip to Northern California, where they played then-#2 Stanford and then-#10 UC Davis. The 49ers followed up an impressive upset of the Cardinal with a disappointing loss to the Aggies the next day.
If the Gauchos are going to make the third time a charm against Long Beach State, they will have to lean heavily on their scoring leaders. Sophomore utility Zsombor Vincze might be the best offensive option for UCSB at this point of the season with his 40 goals, 17 assists, 57 points and a team-leading 40 earned ejections. The Hungarian – who was named MPSF Mikasa Co-Player of the Week last week – is on fire with three consecutive hat tricks, all against teams ranked in the top four nationally.
Sinclair has led UCSB in scoring all year with 46 goals, 76 points, 99 shots and 27 steals. However, freshman utility Milos Golic has quietly caught up to Sinclair in the assists category with 31 while playing in just two-thirds of the season. The Serbian offensive force has taken the conference by storm with his passionate play. As a senior leader, Sinclair offered his support of the fiery freshman.
“That’s just the way he is,” Sinclair said. “Everyone on this team is passionate. That’s just the way he expresses it. Nobody is offended by it. Serbia’s national sport is water polo, and that’s just the way they are. We all understand that.”