In a pair of nonconference games this weekend, the #8 UC Santa Barbara men’s water polo team put a stop to its three-game losing streak but concluded their two-game swing in disappointing fashion. The Gauchos defeated #11 UC San Diego 9-7 on Friday before dropping a close 10-8 match with #9 UC Irvine on Saturday.
After going 1-3 in the Southern California tournament and falling two spots in the national rankings, Santa Barbara was eager to make a statement that the team had not been playing up to its potential. After working on the counter offense and defense — two areas where the team has struggled — all week long, UCSB felt confident in its ability to overcome UCSD on the road.
The Gauchos came out firing in the first half, as junior utility Milos Golic scored only 40 seconds into the game. Sophomore two-meter Noah Smith added another goal shortly after, giving UCSB a 2-0 lead less than two minutes into the game. Following goals from freshman utility Brian Shoemaker and senior driver Sean Castillo, Santa Barbara took a 4-2 lead going into the second quarter.
After their slow start in the first quarter, the Tritons would match the Gauchos goal for goal in the remaining quarters, allowing Santa Barbara to pull off a 9-7 victory. With six different players finding the back of the net, the victory was attributed to a “team effort,” as everyone gelled and worked as a cohesive unit.
“There was no individual nothing,” Golic said. “We came out real hard and won as a team.”
Despite the victory, UCSB was upset with how close the game was, a recurring theme in their games this season.
“We should have held them to [fewer] goals,” Castillo said. “But overall, I’m happy with how we played.”
Santa Barbara looked to carry the momentum into Saturday’s game against Irvine, but a very formidable Anteater team came out tough and matched them with a tied 5-5 score at the half. Irvine then took a 7-6 lead in the third quarter, but Golic would respond with two scores to give his team the one point edge in the fourth. However, Santa Barbara’s counter defense could not hold, allowing three goals in a 10-8 loss.
The very passionate Golic, who scored five of UCSB’s eight goals in the loss, voiced his displeasure after coming out on the wrong end of another close match.
“They will not beat us next game,” Golic said. “That I promise.”
Moving forward, UCSB will continue working on its counter defense with their first conference matchup of the year, a road game at Long Beach State, coming up next. Although the 49ers beat Santa Barbara this year in a 10-9 showdown, the Gauchos know they have the talent to pull out a victory.
“They outplayed us earlier in the season, but we are a better team than them,” Smith said.