During a weekend that had a little bit of everything, the #10 UCSB men’s water polo team edged #14 Pacific 7-6 on Friday before placing ninth at the Northern California Tournament with three wins and a loss on Saturday and Sunday.
“Overall, it was a positive weekend,” Head Coach Wolf Wigo said. “In the first game of the tournament… we played a good game, but unfortunately it fell apart at the end. We struggled a little against Air Force, but we got out of it with a win and had a really strong showing in the next game.”
The Gauchos (7-3 overall) began the weekend in Stockton to face a Tiger squad they had already beaten 9-6 on Sep. 7. Pacific (8-6) seemed determined to not let history repeat itself, battling Santa Barbara to a 4-4 tie going into halftime. With the score tied 5-5 in the final period of regulation, both teams scored again to push the score to 6-6, but in the waning moments, it would be sophomore utility Milos Golic who gave the Gauchos their final margin of victory. The second-year sensation from Serbia recorded his 10th multi-goal outing this season and pushed his scoring streak to 11 games with his performance. Golic also leads the Gauchos with 27 total goals.
“Last year we lost a lot of one-goal games,” said Wigo, “So it’s definitely nice to be on the other side of that and close out some of these games. It shows a lot about the character of this team.”
On Saturday, UCSB split a pair of games to open the NorCal Tournament. The Gauchos began the day with a heartbreaking loss to #9 UC Irvine, as the Anteaters outscored the Gauchos 4-1 in the fourth period to turn an 8-6 deficit into a 10-9 win. Sophomore and junior drivers Brandon Johnson and Thomas Kruip came up huge for the Anteaters (1-4) on the offensive side of the pool, scoring four goals apiece. Offensively for UCSB, senior driver Miles Price led the way with four goals of his own, with Golic contributing two as well.
“They’re definitely our top two scorers at this point,” said Wigo. “Milos is very consistent and Miles is very dangerous if he gets hot.”
Now, with two close matches under their belt, the Gauchos moved on to face #20 Air Force in the nightcap, which would be their toughest test of the tournament. After four periods of place, the score remained deadlocked at 7-7, forcing the game into a short two-period overtime. In the first half of overtime, sophomore two-meter attacker Matt Versage put the Falcons up 8-7, and after each team scored another goal each, Air Force (2-7) clung to a narrow 9-8 lead going into the final overtime period. The Gauchos turned up the defense in the final minutes, shutting out the Falcons and scoring the equalizer to force sudden death overtime. Junior two-meter attacker Jesse Tootell provided the final goal, giving UCSB a nail-biting 10-9 victory. Sophomore goalkeeper Fraser Bunn recorded eight saves in Robinson’s stead, while seven different Gauchos found the back of the net.
The following day, UCSB completed the NorCal Tournament with a relatively easy 14-6 win over #15 Santa Clara and an acceptance of #9 UC San Diego’s forfeiture of the ninth-place match. Against Santa Clara (5-4), the Gauchos outscored the Broncos 12-2 in the second half to turn what was a close game at halftime into a rout. Golic stretched his scoring streak to 14 games with a season-high six-goal performance, while Robinson recorded a season-high 12 saves. Santa Barbara won the ninth-place match by default, as UCSD (10-2) was forced to forfeit due to travel conflicts.
“We were able to get ninth place, but we’re not happy with that,” said Wigo. “It’s acceptable, but we’re looking to get higher in the rankings this year.”