The 2008-09 regular season ended in disappointment over the weekend, as the #7 UCSB men’s water polo team was dismantled 11-4 by #2 UCLA before dropping a narrow 10-9 Senior Day result against #5 Pepperdine at Campus Pool. The Gauchos (15-10 overall, 4-4 in conference) will most likely enter the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament with the sixth seed, needing #4 Cal to lose to both #2 Stanford and #18 Pacific to earn the fifth seed.
UCSB started the weekend off on the right foot Saturday against UCLA (15-5, 5-2) with quick goals from senior drivers Miles Price and Dane Lindstrom, giving the Gauchos a 2-0 lead early on. As time wound down in the first period, senior UCLA defender Chris Allen snuck a goal past sophomore goalkeeper and Co-MPSF Player of the Week Fraser Bunn, cutting the deficit to 2-1. Up to that point Bunn had played well, recording four of his nine in the opening period.
Then the Bruins took their defense to another level. For the next 21 minutes and 14 seconds, an interval that spanned two and a half quarters, UCLA rendered a previously successful Gaucho attack scoreless while piling on 11 goals of their own. During the run, sophomore utility Ben Hohl netted four to lead all scorers and tie his season-high set at Cal two weeks prior. Junior goalkeeper Chay Lapin went relatively untested throughout the match, finishing with six saves. After the Bruins had subbed in their reserves with about four minutes remaining in the fourth, UCSB bookended their frustrating day with two goals from junior driver Stefan Partelow and freshman driver Marko Pance, cutting the final score down to a slightly more respectable 11-4.
“They did a really good job, their defense was excellent,” said Head Coach Wolf Wigo, “And our defense wasn’t. The first quarter was just how we wanted to play, but then we stopped pressing their good shooters for some reason. If you give them time, they’re going to beat you, and that’s what happened.”
On Sunday, Pepperdine (18-6, 5-2) spoiled Senior Day for the Gauchos in the 12th game decided by a single goal UCSB has participated in this year. Sophomore two-meter defender Brian Bishop put the Gauchos up on the board with a quick shot to the far post, beating freshman goalkeeper John Hahn for a 1-0 advantage. The Waves responded with three unanswered goals, two of which came from senior center-back Grant Miller. Trailing 3-1, Santa Barbara opened the second period with a strike from sophomore utility Milos Golic, ending a scoring drought from the MPSF’s leading scorer that lasted 72 minutes dating back to the Stanford match. Sophomore attacker Andrew Milcovich posted his second of three goals on the day following Golic’s slump-breaker, widening the Pepperdine lead until Lindstrom cut it to 4-3 moments later. The Waves went on yet another costly 3-0 run before Price and Partelow closed out the half with two goals, narrowing the deficit to 7-5 at the intermission.
For the third straight period Santa Barbara scored first on Lindstrom’s second goal, cutting the lead to 7-6 before Pepperdine earned goals from Milcovich and junior utility Brett Auer. UCSB would manufacture a 3-0 run of their own, capped off by a beautifully re-directed shot by junior two-meter Jesse Tootell after junior driver Sean Castillo let one rip from 10 yards out. Pepperdine would have the last say however, earning the eventual game-winning goal from senior attacker Adam Hewko with 2:26 remaining in regulation. This loss marked the final home game for seniors Price, Lindstrom, Natalizio, fellow driver Travis Watts, two-meter defender Michael Machado and two-meter Ratko Paunovic.
“It’s a beautiful day, great crowd, and I thought we played a great game, just came up on the short end of the stick,” said Wigo. “Both teams played well, a lot of nice shots, nice goals, a lot of grabbing and holding.”
UCSB will resume play on Nov. 28 for the MPSF Tournament hosted by Pepperdine, the winner of which will earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Championships in December.