This past weekend culminated in another disappointing finish for the #6 UCSB men’s water polo team at the UC Irvine Invitational.
Though they finished weak, Santa Barbara (8-6 overall) opened up strong against UC Davis with a 7-5 victory. Six different Gauchos scored in the game, with sophomore two-meter Noah Smith leading the way with two goals. Junior goalie Fraser Bunn, who currently leads the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation in saves per game, continued his brilliance by notching nine saves in the victory.
With the win, UCSB earned a chance to revenge a loss against #3 USC. The Gauchos lost to the defending National Champions earlier in the year 15-5, and were eager to show that they can play at the same level as the Trojans. However, USC had other ideas in mind, opening up hot and never relenting.
After the first period, the Trojans heavy counter attacks resulted in a 4-1 lead. USC then exploded with scoring, extending the lead to 11-2 before the half. Santa Barbara was unable to regain their composure and could only muster a single goal in the second half as they lost 17-3.
Junior utility and returning First Team All-American Milos Golic, who was held scoreless, took the loss especially hard, attributing it to the Trojan’s powerhouse reputation.
“Our attitude [towards USC] is the most important thing,” Golic said. “We have a lot of young guys on the team that think USC is unbeatable.”
The margin of goals that separated the two teams also upset the junior.
“This showed we’re still bad at counter defense,” Golic said. “Were still not at [USC’s] level.”
After the loss, Santa Barbara looked to rebound against Long Beach State. The Gauchos played hard and controlled the game for the first three quarters. However, they let up in the fourth allowing Long Beach to score the equalizer proceeded by the eventual game winner in a 10-9 loss.
“It’s very disappointing,” Golic said. “[Only] one quarter cost us the game.”
Following their back-to-back losses, UCSB went up against Loyola Marymount for the seventh place game. LMU had defeated the Gauchos 8-5 at the Northern California Invitational earlier this year. However, the Gauchos were very confident in their ability to win the game.
The Gauchos came out firing in the first half and built a three goal lead. However, the Lions would not relent and battled back to level the score. The second half became a seesaw affair with both teams matching the other when one would take the lead. With an 8-7 lead with under 10 seconds remaining, Santa Barbara looked to have the close contest all but won. However, LMU scored with five seconds left in regulation to force overtime.
The Gauchos confidence remained high as they have excelled in overtime in the past two years. However, UCSB came out shaky and missed their first six shot attempts. In the end, the Lions scored the game winner in a 10-9 victory, giving Santa Barbara an eighth place finish after going 1-3 in the tournament.
“We are better than those teams [Long Beach and LMU],” Golic said. “Just a few mistakes cost us.”