In a season that has seen more ups and downs than the newest six flags roller coaster, the UCSB men’s water polo team has an opportunity on Sunday to end the regular season on an impressive note when it takes on #7 Pepperdine (24-8 overall, 1-5 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation).
The #6 Gauchos (19-11 overall, 3-4 MPSF) started the season on fire by winning nine out of their first 10, only to follow it up immediately with a 10 game stretch in which they won only three and dropped a frustrating six one-goal games. Led by senior driver Ross Sinclair, the Gauchos proved their mettle with impressive showings against a number of top teams, even beating Stanford for the first time in 22 years.
“This season hasn’t gone the way we have wanted it to go, but we are in a good situation,” Sinclair said. “If we win Sunday, we will be fourth and get to play Stanford [in the MPSF Tournament] who we obviously can beat. This is it. It won’t make or break our season, but it will definitely make the post-season easier.”
Sunday will mark the fourth meeting of the season between UCSB and Pepperdine. The Waves have already beaten the Gauchos twice this year, including handing the UCSB squad their first loss of the year. All of the matches between the rivals have been close fought battles decided by no more than two goals, including two one-goal games.
“They know us just as well as we know them,” Sinclair said. “We scrimmage with them in the summer and they have a lot of guys we went to high school with. They have a lot of shooters. We know that if we can press them out and take care of their shooters we should be good.”
Junior driver Miles Price has played some of his best water polo of the year against Pepperdine, scoring a team-high seven goals. For the Waves, sophomore attacker J.P. MacDonell and junior attacker Adam Hewko each matched Price’s offensive output against UCSB by netting seven goals apiece.
The Gauchos are a different team than the one that lost to Pepperdine earlier this season, in large part because of the emergence of freshman utility Milos Golic, who sat out the early part of the season. In the two months Golic has played, he has dominated opponents with a team leading 33 assists, 2.21 goals per game and 3.95 points per game.