Familiar faces and late losses were abundant this weekend at the Southern California Tournament, where the #7 UCSB men’s water polo team beat #8 UC Irvine 11-10 for the second time this season before losing their next three games against #1 USC, #4 Pepperdine, and #10 UC San Diego en route to an eighth place finish.
“This weekend we played some of the top eight teams in the country,” said Head Coach Wolf Wigo. “We were really close to winning a lot of them, but obviously it was disappointing not to. We made some good improvements in our game and showed we were able to compete with any of the top teams.”
The Gauchos (10-7 overall) came into the weekend looking for a better placing than their ninth place finish at the NorCal Tournament three weeks ago, and certainly started off well, beating Irvine (4-7) in another nail-biter. Senior driver Miles Price capped off a slow first period with a strike past sophomore goalkeeper Matt Johnson to put the Gauchos up 3-2 going into the second frame. UCSB and UCI traded goals again in the second before back-to-back points from senior drivers Travis Watts and Dane Lindstrom gave the Gauchos a slim 6-4 lead at the half. Irvine made things interesting in the third period, scoring three unanswered to take a narrow 7-6 lead. Both teams scored back and forth for the rest of the game, until senior driver Daniel Natalizio netted his second of the game to put the Gauchos up 11-9 as time winded down, and Santa Barbara withstood one more Anteater goal to take the match 11-10.
“We knew we had to play our best in the first game of the tournament,” said junior driver Sean Castillo. “At the NorCal Tournament, when we lost against Irvine that put us in the loser’s bracket, so we really didn’t have a chance to play in good games. We were matched up with them again, and that turned out to be our biggest game this weekend.”
The win against UCI did indeed put the Gauchos in the winners bracket, but there waiting was top-ranked USC (15-0), who wasn’t about to have their 18 game winning streak snapped by a team they had already beaten earlier this year. UCSB played the Trojans to a 1-1 first period tie, but Southern California proved to be too much down the stretch, outscoring the Gauchos 10-3 the rest of the way. With his only goal coming in the first period, Golic extended his scoring streak to 19 games, as streak that would grow to 21 by tournament’s end.
“It was a close game at the end of the first,” said Castillo, “but then we started falling apart. A couple of people were out of the game or in foul trouble, and they kept scoring. They’re not that dominant personnel-wise, but they make few mistakes and when you make mistakes they capitalize on that.”
In the third game of the tournament, UCSB matched up against the host Pepperdine (10-4) in a game that got a late start due to the match before it going into overtime. Santa Barbara looked sluggish in the first period, getting outscored 5-1 after Price netted the first goal of the game. In the second period, UCSB seemed to wake up, benefiting from two Castillo goals to trail only 8-5 at the half. Unfortunately, Santa Barbara could edge little closer, losing 12-10 even with a spectacular three-goal period by Golic in the third. Junior two-meter J.P MacDonell provided most of the offensive fireworks for Pepperdine, netting a team-high four goals on the day.
In what would be the final match of the tournament for UCSB, the Gauchos dropped a 12-11 decision in sudden death overtime against UCSD (13-6), a team the Gauchos would have faced in the NorCal Tournament had the Tritons not forfeited due to travel issues. This time, San Diego stuck around, and sent a game the Gauchos had led the entire way into overtime with two timely goals late by senior utility A.J. Kontanjean The game could not be settled in overtime, needing two sudden-death periods before senior driver Adnan Jerkovic struck with 2:56 remaining for the win.
“Without a doubt, the San Diego loss was the most disappointing,” said Wigo. “We were up two goals with two minutes left, but made a few critical mistakes that cost us the game. We’ll play them again two weeks from now, so hopefully we can avenge that loss.”