After holding serve at home against #8 UC San Diego in epic fashion, the #7 UCSB men’s water polo team hits the road to resume Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play against defending national champion #3 Cal and #19 Pacific this weekend.
“Pacific’s been good at home, even though they’re one of the weaker teams in the conference,” said Head Coach Wolf Wigo. “That said, this is the best conference in the nation, so we’re not looking past anyone. We’ll have to be ready. As for Cal, I like my team against them. I feel we’re capable of beating anyone anywhere.”
The Gauchos (12-7 overall, 1-1 in conference) will begin their weekend trip in Berkeley to face a Cal squad (13-5, 0-2) that is coming off a difficult 11-10 loss at #4 UCLA before tearing apart #12 Santa Clara and UC Santa Cruz by a combined score of 33-11 in nonconference play. Senior attacker Frank Reynolds leads the Golden Bears with 27 goals on the year, closely followed by junior All-American attacker Spencer Warden with 25. Both Warden and Reynolds are tied for second on the team in assists with 18, making them that more dangerous on the offensive end of the pool. However, Warden also leads his team with ejections this year with 20, but has made up for it with a remarkable 46 steals on the year, leading the second man on the list by 27. Defensively, Cal has started sophomore Jacob McIntosh consistently in goal. For his 519 minutes defending the net, McIntosh has saved 152 while allowing 6.35 goals per game.
“Cal is a pretty good team,” said junior driver Sean Castillo, “But they haven’t been as dominant as they were last year. They’re not really much of a front-court offensive as they’ve been in the past, [this year] they’ve relied more on their defense and their transition game. If we do our jobs in shutting down their transition offense, it should be a really good game, a close match. I think we’re going to come out and surprise them.”
On Sunday, the Gauchos travel to Stockton for a match against Pacific (10-15, 0-3), a team that is also reeling from a loss against the Bruins last weekend. UCSB has played the Tigers twice so far, winning both matches in the Triton Invitational and on the road by scores of 9-6 and 7-6. Senior two-meter defender Shane Mahoney and senior driver William Milcovich combined for six goals in those meetings, accounting for 50 percent of Pacific’s scoring. Senior Brian Domecus has been tending the net for Pacific this year, saving six in the team’s second meeting.
“Pacific is a team that in the past we haven’t had much trouble with,” Castillo said. “But we can’t really judge them based on their ranking…We definitely need to come out and make a statement against them and not have a close game against someone we should beat.”
As for the Gauchos, UCSB has been turning solid performances on both offense and defense as of late. Sophomore utility Milos Golic leads the conference with 56 goals, averaging 3.11 per game. Golic is in the midst of a 23-game scoring streak dating back to 2007, and leads his team with 14 assists beside 13 steals. On the inside, junior and freshman two-meters Jesse Tootell and Noah Smith have stepped up their play in recent memory, with Tootell tying his career high of three goals against UCSD and Smith scoring in his last three games. Defensively, sophomore Fraser Bunn became the first MPSF goalie on the year to post 20 saves in a game last weekend, and is second in the conference with a 10.4 save average.
UCSB and UC Berkeley will take the pool at high noon Saturday, while on Sunday the Gauchos head to Stockton for a noon start-time against Pacific. Santa Barbara will return home next weekend to face Long Beach on Nov. 8 and Stanford on Nov. 9, with both games to be played at Campus Pool at noon.