Here we go again. After a disappointing eighth-place finish at last weekend’s SoCal Tournament, the road-weary #8 UCSB men’s water polo team returns to the friendly confines of Campus Pool this Saturday to face off against, guess who, #9 UC Irvine.
It will be the fourth, and probably not the last, meeting between the Gauchos (10-7 overall) and Anteaters (5-7) this season, with UCSB holding the slight edge in the series at two games to one. In each encounter, the outcome was decided by two goals or less. The most recent example was in the SoCal Tournament’s first round, with the Gauchos hanging on to an 11-10 victory.
“What we’ve done before [against Irvine] has worked well,” said Head Coach Wolf Wigo, “and this is our alumni weekend, that game will be played the same day. We definitely want to have a good showing for the alumni.”
UCSB enters the weekend with the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation’s most prolific scorer in sophomore utility Milos Golic, looking to extend his scoring streak to 22 games dating back to 2007. Golic’s 48 goals on the season rank first in the MPSF and sixth nationally, and last week he recorded his 100th career goal at UCSB, one of only 21 other Gauchos to do so. Being only a sophomore, Golic is on pace to etch his name among the Gaucho water polo greats; only three Gauchos have ever broken the 200 career goal mark. Golic also leads his team in assists and steals, with 13 and 11, respectively. Against UCI this year, the Serbian has averaged 3.33 goals per game, right around his MPSF leading season average of 3.00.
With defenses now focused on stopping Golic, other Gauchos have had to step up and produce in his stead. Senior driver Miles Price had a quiet SoCal Tournament with only four goals, but he has been consistent all season long, ranking second on the team with 23 goals. Fellow senior driver Daniel Natalizio has started to catch fire, scoring nine of his 11 goals this season in the last six games. Even the youngster Noah Smith has gotten into the action. After netting four in Santa Barbara’s season-opening massacre of Cal Lutheran, the freshman two-meter only scored twice in his next 10 games. However, since the blowout win against Iona, Smith has been on a tear, netting six in the last five games.
“[Smith]’s been getting better and better every week,” said Wigo. “He’s 6’4″ 250, a strong guy who’s tough for players to handle in the middle. If he can continue to improve, it’ll be great for the team.”
Statistically speaking, Irvine hasn’t exactly been at a loss for offense this season either. Sophomore driver Brandon Johnson is tied for second in the conference in goals scored with 32 this year and in goals per game with a 2.67 average. Unfortunately, Johnson and junior two-meter Greg Enloe, who has 21 goals to his credit, have not been getting any help offensively. Johnson and Enloe have accounted for 48 percent of Irvine’s goals on the year.
Defensively, UCSB has guarded the goal by committee this season, with junior Michael Robinson and sophomore Fraser Bunn splitting time every other match. Both men have saved a career-high 14 goals this year and average over nine saves per game. On the flip side, the Anteaters have been content to leave sophomore goalkeeper Matt Johnson in the net for all but two games. Johnson has allowed 8.00 goals per game and has saved only 67 goals.
UCSB and Irvine will meet for the first time at Campus Pool this season beginning at noon Saturday. At the conclusion of the match, UCSB will host its annual Alumni Game, slated for an approximate 2 p.m. start time.