After earning a well-deserved week off in the wake of last weekend’s thrilling sudden-death victory over #9 UC Irvine, the #8 UCSB men’s water polo team looks to keep their unbeaten home record alive against #7 UC San Diego this Friday at Campus Pool.
While the schedule says that this will be the fourth meeting between the Gauchos (11-7 overall) and Tritons (14-6), Friday’s matchup will only be the third. After UCSD beat UCSB 12-11 at the Triton Invitational to begin the year, the two teams were supposed to duke it out for ninth-place at the NorCal Tournament weeks later. However, due to travel conflicts, San Diego had to forfeit the match to get home, leaving the Gauchos with their only win on paper over them this year. The two UCs met again in the SoCal Tournament, but the result remained the same, with the Tritons edging out another 12-11 victory, this time in sudden death.
“We don’t really like San Diego that much,” said senior driver Dane Lindstrom. “They’ve beaten us a couple times. … But we definitely would have won that match they forfeited, no question.”
Streaks aside, the Tritons come into Campus Pool with every intention of continuing their dominance this year over UCSB. UC San Diego is coming off a midseason beat down of unheralded Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in which the Tritons won by a score of 20-4, a season high for San Diego in total goals for a match. Offensively, the Tritons are led by junior two-meter Steven Donohoe and senior utility A.J Kotanjian who both rank in the nation’s top ten in goals scored with 45 apiece. Senior driver Adnan Jerkovic has been critical to the UCSD attack as well with 34 goals this year, but also leads the team in assists with 62. Defensively, freshman goalkeeper David Morton has been taking all the minutes in the net, saving 173 goals on the year, which is good enough for sixth in the nation.
“Without a doubt, the San Diego loss [in the SoCal Tournament] was the most disappointing,” said Head Coach Wolf Wigo. “We were up two goals with two minutes left but made a few critical mistakes that cost us the game. Hopefully, we can avenge that loss [this weekend].”
UCSB has all the weapons to plaster the Tritons this time around with the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation scoring leader as their offensive centerpiece. Sophomore sensation Milos Golic continued his stellar second season with four goals in last week’s win over Irvine, increasing his goal total to 52. The Serbian utility has averaged a league-best 3.06 goals a game, and ranks 19th on the Gaucho career goal list with 105. Even with those impressive numbers, Golic has not carried the offense alone. Senior drivers Miles Price and Daniel Natalizio have combined for 37 goals this year, with 11 of Natalizio’s 13 coming in the last seven games. Natalizio has come up big for UCSB in recent memory, scoring two late goals against Irvine including the game-winner in sudden death.
“[Natalizio]’s been huge for us,” said Lindstrom. “I always thought it was wrong that he wasn’t getting a lot of playing time, but now that he has he’s been great. He’s kind of taken my spot now, but I’m really happy for him.”
UCSB and UCSD take Campus Pool beginning at 3 p.m. on Friday. Looking ahead, the Gauchos resume MPSF play next week with games at #3 Cal and #17 Pacific on November first and second, respectively.