The #7 UCSB men’s water polo team placed sixth at the end of the year Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament by beating #6 Pepperdine and falling to #1 USC and #4 UCLA.
The dominant play throughout the MPSF this season meant this year’s tournament would have the nation’s very best competing against each other. With the top eight teams in the country converging on Cal’s Spieker Aquatics Complex in Berkeley, UCSB’s (19-14 overall, 3-5 in the MPSF) first-round Friday match was against top-ranked USC (17-2, 6-2 MPSF). The Gauchos came out strong against the Trojans, outscoring them 2-1 in the first quarter before heading into the half tied at three.
However, USC would make the necessary halftime adjustments to pull away from UCSB, and dominated the Gauchos with five unanswered goals in the third frame. UCSB senior driver Ross Sinclair led the way against the Trojans by piling up four of the team’s seven goals, while freshman utility Milos Golic added two and junior two meter Ratko Paunovic netted one. Although the Gauchos would outscore the Trojans 4-2 in the final quarter, USC had built a big enough lead to come away with a 10-7 win.
Friday’s loss meant a fifth-place finish for UCSB would be the best-case scenario, but Pepperdine (27-10, 3-5 MPSF) and their three straight wins over Santa Barbara stood in the way. For the first three quarters of the contest, the two squads matched each other on the scoreboard with each team scoring three in the first, two in the second and two in the third periods. Sophomore utility Zsombor Vincze would fire home the only goal in the fourth frame with 6:21 to play for the game-winner. The Gaucho defense stood tall the rest of the way, and with senior goalie Rick Wright anchoring the net, UCSB squeaked out the 8-7 victory. Vincze recorded a hat trick in the game, and Golic added two more goals to lead the UCSB attack.
Any momentum that came with Saturday’s closely fought game was short lived, as Sunday the Gauchos faced a UCLA squad that already handed UCSB their biggest loss of the year. Once again, UCSB started strong as they have all year with three first quarter goals. However the middle frames were the turning point in the game. The Bruins (21-7, 5-3 MPSF) outscored the Gauchos 9-2 in the second and third quarters giving UCSB too big a margin to overcome. Despite the heroics from Golic, who scored five goals in the contest, UCLA would cruise with the lead to a 15-8 win.