No shirt? No shoes? No pool? No problem. After taking two of four from UC San Diego’s Triton Invitational at the top of the month, the UCSB men’s water polo team opened up their 2008-09 home schedule with a solid 7-5 win over 12th-ranked UC Davis at the newly reopened Campus Pool last Friday.

The #10 Gauchos (3-2 overall) quickly gained the upper hand with quick goals by sophomore utility Milos Golic and senior driver Miles Price, and entered the first break up 2-0. Davis (2-3) immediately responded as senior utility Adam Bennett found a lane between the Santa defensemen and fired one just past the outstretched hands of junior goalkeeper Michael Robinson for the Aggies’ first goal. UCSB responded quickly with goals from junior driver Stefan Partelow and Golic’s second of the match, giving the favored Gauchos a commanding 4-1 lead at the half.

Coming out of the locker room, Santa Barbara seemed to pick up where it left off, as junior driver Sean Castillo stole the ball just inside center-pool and proceeded to beat redshirt freshman goalkeeper Kevin Peat one-on-one, giving UCSB its biggest advantage of the match at 5-1. Davis countered with Bennett’s second goal, but the Gauchos answered with Price’s second of the match.

As time wound down in the third quarter, the Aggies struck again as senior 2-meter defender Danny Driscoll netted a beautiful ball just inside the far post, cutting the Gauchos lead to three. Davis would have scored again in the third off a penalty shot with no time on the clock if not for Robinson, who managed the toughest of his nine saves to keep the score 6-3 heading into the fourth period.

High drama ensued during the final frame as Golic and Bennett each scored their third goal, pushing the score to 7-4. Junior driver Brendan Sigourney edged Davis within two as time began winding down, but that was as close as the Aggies would get. Golic’s hat trick was his third this year, and he leads UCSB with 13 total goals.

This season, UCSB looks to improve upon last year’s 19-12 record with another 20-win season and a deeper run in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament at year’s end. On offense, the Gauchos return the dangerous duo of Golic and junior utility Zsombor Vincze, who combined for 99 goals last year. No less dynamic around the goal is Price, who posted 35 goals a year ago and already has 7 this year.

“Milos [Golic] and Zsombor [Vincze] are two of the best players in the country this year,” Head Coach Wolf Wigo said. “They are both excellent shooters, they are excellent defenders and excellent all-around attackers. Milos is an extremely talented player and we really hope he can have a breakthrough year his senior year, come out and be a star player.”

UCSB looks to do it by committee on defense, relying on a trio of defenders in junior Kendell Olds, senior Michael Machado and sophomore Brian Bishop to hold down the fort. So far, the three have combined for three field blocks and only eight fouls in five games played.

“We have the same group as last year, we don’t lose anyone in that position, so it is going to be one of the strong points of our team,” Wigo said. “They are continuing to get better on offense, they are getting stronger and more experienced, and they can handle any center in the country right now. They are a great threesome, and along with the three hole men, we are really deep in those positions.”

Following its first home game of the season, UCSB hits the road for a date at Pacific this Friday. The Gauchos have already beaten the Tigers (6-3) this year, having met earlier this month at the UCSD Triton Invitational. Santa Barbara beat them then 9-6, and looks to do so again.

“There is no game we are going into that we feel like we can’t win,” Wigo said. “Our goals are for the highest level: to make the NCAA Championships. We have a lot of seniors, so if the senior group can come together and make a really strong team and bond, and be motivated, we can have a lot of success.”