The #9 UCSB men’s water polo team has another opportunity to earn its first Mountain Pacific Sports Federation win this weekend as it hosts the #2 Cal Bears on Saturday and then the #13 Pacific Tigers on Sunday. Fortunately for the Gauchos (10-10 overall, 0-3 in MPSF), they have the home pool advantage, which tends to be disastrous for visiting teams.
“No one seems to be able to play well at our pool,” senior driver Stefan Partelow said.
Santa Barbara has a 2-1 record at home, with its one loss coming off a 6-4 nail-biter against #1 USC. However, the loss does not truly represent how crucial their home pool has been. For instance, UCSB lost to USC 15-5 and 17-3 earlier in the season while in neutral waters. However, Santa Barbara held the Trojans to only six goals on the game and scoreless in the fourth while at home. After looking at these results, it is not a surprise why the Gauchos are so confident.
“We think this is the game that can show we’re a dangerous team,” junior utility Milos Golic said.
Santa Barbara will need all the confidence it can muster when facing Cal (16-4 overall, 3-1 in MPSF). The Golden Bears have a very impressive record with three of their four losses coming against #1 USC and all by two goals or less. However, they have an added advantage having defeated Santa Barbara earlier this season 12-8. But with zero wins in conference in the back of their minds and a fired up crowd, the Gauchos may be able to pull out an upset against Cal.
Right after they face off against Berkeley, UCSB will face Fresno Pacific, a non-ranked opponent in a non-conference matchup. The Gauchos have called it “an easy game” and are much more fixated on the matches preceding and following it.
On Sunday, Santa Barbara will face #13 Pacific (12-11 overall, 0-4 in the MPSF) in conference action and are just as eager to play the Tigers as they are the Golden Bears. Pacific is also looking for their first conference win, but a hungry Gaucho team will be looking to prevent that at all cost, dubbing this game “an absolutely necessary victory.” And given their recent play, it appears that the only team that can defeat UCSB is UCSB.
The overwhelming majority of Santa Barbara’s losses have been by two goals or less and several have come against teams ranked below them. And the causes for the losses are not from incredible play from their opponents, but actually simple mistakes by the Gauchos. Even in their 6-4 loss to USC, the Gauchos had multiple opportunities in the fourth quarter to score, but they were unable to find the back of the net. Golic also believes one of the causes for the losses is Santa Barbara’s confidence. UCSB has an immense amount of confidence, but sometimes it may be too much.
“Sometimes we’re too confident and [just] expect to win,” Golic said. “We need to put in 150 percent and leave nothing behind.”
Having scored 11 goals in only his last three games, Golic now leads the MPSF in goals with 53. The second highest total is 43. The “Serbian Sensation” is back to form and ready to lead the Gauchos in their quest for an NCAA tournament birth. Accompanied by junior goalie Fraser Bunn, who leads the MPSF in saves, Santa Barbara is becoming a force to be reckoned with.
UCSB will face Cal this Saturday at 12 p.m. and Fresno Pacific at 2 p.m. They will face Pacific on Sunday, with the ball dropping at 12 p.m.