After dropping a nail-biter to USC last Thursday, the #9 UCSB men’s water polo team pulled out their first victory in over two weeks against #13 Santa Clara on Friday before falling to #3 Stanford in conference play on Saturday.

Santa Barbara (10-10 overall, 0-3 in the MPSF) played #1 USC at Campus Pool last Thursday, and for the first time this year, gave the Trojans a competitive game. The first two meetings between the teams resulted in double digits losses for UCSB. USC’s current national ranking, accompanied by their reputation as reigning national champions, would be enough to scare any team. However, nothing could shake the Gauchos’ confidence.

“We weren’t scared of them at all,” junior utility Milos Golic said.

The Trojans came out firing in the first period, scoring three goals, but UCSB responded by scoring two of their own. USC would then widen their lead by outscoring the Gauchos 2-1 in the second quarter to take a 5-3 lead at half. The second half highlighted the defensive skills as both teams only allowed in one goal each. Down by two in the fourth, Santa Barbara had several chances to score in the game, including a 6-5 advantage and a breakaway by both sophomore two-meter Noah Smith and Golic. However, UCSB was incapable of finding the back of the net, and they ended up losing 6-4. Despite coming up short, the game boosted the team’s confidence.

“It shows that if we play how we’re capable [of playing], then we can play with anybody,” senior driver Sean Castillo said.

Santa Barbara then went to Santa Clara for their second match in as many days. Still exhausted from their game against USC and already looking forward to their match up with #3 Stanford, UCSB came out sluggish against the Broncos. However, with six different Gauchos scoring, they did just enough to pull out an 11-7 victory. Freshman utility Brian Shoemaker led the way with a career-high four goals, with goals also coming from Golic, Castillo and freshman two-meter Teddy “Panda” Zhang.

UCSB then made the short trip to Stanford to take on the Cardinal in conference action. Golic opened up the scoring with a goal only 30 seconds in to the game. However, the Cardinal responded shortly after with a goal of their own. Golic then scored again four minutes later to leave Stanford trailing again, but they then tied the match heading into the second quarter of play. The second quarter would be the Gauchos’ downfall as they allowed eight goals and essentially allowed the game to slip out of their fingers due to simple mistakes and bad counter defense. The Gauchos would outscore the Cardinal in the second half, but the gap was too large to close, and Santa Barbara lost 13-8. After outplaying Stanford in three quarters, the loss was a tough one to swallow.

“It was very disappointing. … The second quarter killed the team psychologically,” Golic said.

Golic has been on a scoring tear lately, with 11 goals in Santa Barbara’s past three games, including six against Stanford’s Jimmie Sandman, the irrefutable best goalie in the nation. As the conference’s returning leading scorer, he finally appears to have regained his peak form of last season.

“I’m back,” Golic said. “But at the same time, [my play] didn’t help us, and that’s bothering me.”

Despite their recent struggles, the young Gaucho squad is now playing up to their potential, which, coupled with Golic’s prolific scoring, just might restore their season.