The first weekend of Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play went as scripted for the #10 UCSB men’s water polo team, a weekend that featured a blowout 17-5 loss at #1 USC and another nail-biter against #9 UC Irvine, this time resulting in a Santa Barbara victory.
The Gauchos (8-4 overall, 1-1 conference) knew beforehand they were in for a tough match against the Trojans (12-0, 2-0), a team that hadn’t lost at home in 28 consecutive tries. UCSB seemed not to care during Saturday’s first period, when sophomore utility Milos Golic beat freshman goalkeeper Joel Dennerley during a six-on-five break, giving the visitors a slim 1-0 lead. It would be the last time Santa Barbara would lead, as the Trojans unhinged their offense, outscoring UCSB 7-3 to end the half. Junior two-meter defender and 2008 Olympic silver medalist J.W Krumpholz keyed USC’s offensive outburst, scoring two unanswered goals during the run that split the game wide open.
The homesteading Trojans did not let up coming out of the break, outscoring Santa Barbara 6-1 in the third period, and slammed the door in the fourth with a 4-1 performance. Golic finished with another hat trick, his ninth multi-goal showing this year, and stretched his scoring streak to 15 games, but received little help offensively. Junior two-meter attacker Jesse Tootell and senior two-meter defender Michael Machado were the only other Gaucho goal scorers, netting one apiece. By contrast, USC received contributions from 11 different Trojans, four of them scoring at least twice.
UCSB then traveled to Irvine looking to even the series with the Anteaters (2-8, 0-2), having lost to UCI 10-9 in the Northern California Tournament’s first round two weeks ago. During that defensive struggle, the Gauchos led 8-6 going into the final period, but were then outscored 4-1 in the fourth to record the loss. On Sunday, both teams seemed to abandon defense for offense, combining for nine goals in the first period of play. Santa Barbara finished the first-period fireworks with a slim 5-4 advantage, and entered intermission with a 9-6 lead. Golic scored three of his season-high seven goals in the first half, but got unexpected offensive help from senior driver Daniel Natalizio who had only played in four games prior to the match and hadn’t scored since his two goal effort against Cal Lutheran. Natalizio recorded only the second hat trick of his career against the Anteaters, and was one of six different Gauchos to score.
The second half saw UCSB extend their lead to four goals to end the third period, a lead that would turn out to be enough as the Gauchos held on for a 14-12 win. Irvine did not go down without a fight, as sophomore driver Brandon Johnson netted a career high six goals to keep the Anteaters close, but junior goalkeeper Michael Robinson wasn’t consistently beaten by anyone else, posting a career-high 14 saves for the match.
UCSB returns home for a conference breather against unranked Iona (8-12, 1-1) Tuesday at Campus Pool. Game start is set for 3 p.m.