The #9 UCSB men’s water polo team will travel down to Long Beach State to play the #8 49ers this weekend for their first Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Conference game of the season. Santa Barbara (9-7 overall) is coming off two disappointing weekends in a row, having gone 1-4 in their last five contests, with three of the four losses being decided by two goals or less. And if that was not enough motivation for the Gauchos, one of those losses was against Long Beach (6-8 overall, 0-3 in conference).

“It would be very hard, almost impossible, for us to lose the second game,” junior utility Milos Golic said.

“The Serbian Sensation,” a returning First Team All-American, leads the very powerful UCSB offense that includes sophomore two-meter Noah Smith, freshman utility Brian Shoemaker, junior utility Zsombor Vincze, senior drivers Sean Castillo and Stefan Partelow. However, scoring goals has not been an issue for Santa Barbara. Preventing them has. Junior goalie Fraser Bunn has done a commendable job between the pipes as he leads the MPSF in saves per game. However, the defense has been giving up too many shots to its opponents and has squandered several late leads, as was the case in the team’s first game against Long Beach this year.

UCSB relinquished a fourth quarter lead to the 49ers in their first game against each other this year in order to force overtime play. The Gauchos, who excel in extra minutes, then allowed some mental errors to give a 10-9 advantage to Long Beach for only their second overtime defeat in their last 11 matches. Despite the loss, Santa Barbara believes the game was lost by them instead of won by the 49ers.

“We made some simple mistakes,” senior driver Partelow said.

Having since watched the game on video, Partelow and the rest of the Gauchos believe that they can prevent their errors and pull out their first conference victory. UCSB has also extensively worked on the countering ability for the past two weeks, the team’s Achilles’ heel. Counter defense is also a weakness of Long Beach, and Santa Barbara is hoping their practice will pay dividends in the game, in which every goal will count. However, beating the 49ers will not be an easy task, as they too are searching for their first conference victory. Along with the previous victory over Santa Barbara this year and the home-pool advantage, it appears they hold the advantage over UCSB.

Still, the perpetually passionate Golic adamantly disagrees, saying the game will, ultimately, be decided by Santa Barbara.

“It doesn’t matter at all how they think,” Golic said. “It matters how we play the game. We’re the better team 100 percent.”

The game will take place this Saturday in Long Beach, and the ball will drop at 12 p.m.