Sometimes when you are stuck in hot water, you manage to get out of dodge and overcome whatever obstacle stands in your way. Other times, it appears that you are stuck in a bottomless pool of bad luck that drowns you no matter how hard you try.

The latter scenario seems to reflect the campaign of the 2009 UCSB men’s water polo team, concluding their season last weekend with a seventh place finish in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation conference tournament.

Given the seventh seed in the tournament, Santa Barbara (13-16 overall, 2-9 MPSF) had its hands full opening up against #2 Stanford.

The Gauchos were praying for an upset but the Cardinal persevered and defeated them 11-7, eliminating any chance of qualifying for the NCAA tournament. Following a predictable loss, a dejected Gaucho bunch lost their next game to sixth-seeded Irvine 12-9, putting UCSB in the seventh-place game against Pacific.

“Our morale was down after we lost the first game,” senior driver Sean Castillo said.

Though the consecutive losses took the wind out of their sails, nothing was going to stop the Gauchos from winning their final game of the season.

The Santa Barbara offense exploded in their final contest of the season, scoring 20 goals to Pacific’s 11. Junior utility Zsombor Vincze led the way with six scores as UCSB recorded its highest goal total of the season, ending a disappointing season on a positive note.

“Seventh [place] is better than eighth,” Castillo said.

Though the team’s final result did not meet preseason expectations, the rocky season was not all bad.
UCSB showed significant promise for next year as they took second place in the Triton Invitational, beating several teams ranked above them, only losing to a formidable USC team in the final. Still, the below .500 finish left much to be desired.

“[Our record] is embarrassing,” junior utility Milos Golic said.

Golic was just named to the First Team All-MPSF for the second season in a row after leading the conference in both goals, 77, and goals per game, 2.75. But while “The Serbian Sensation” is Santa Barbara’s most proven offensive weapon, he also happens to be their toughest critic. Golic holds the team, and himself, to higher standards in a season that at times showed glimpses of lackluster effort.

“We didn’t leave everything in the pool every game,” Golic said.

If the Gauchos had brought it every game, who knows what could have happened. Eleven of their 16 losses came by three goals or less and all season they appeared to be close to staging a run at the conference title. Unfortunately, the string of wins never materialized and the season culminated as the worst in recent memory.

While the saying “there’s always next year” may sound cliché, the upcoming season for Santa Barbara water polo has the potential to yield much better results.

Though it is unlikely that the Serbian Golic and the Hungarian Vincze have grown up with the American motto, there is little doubt that both will attempt to give it new meaning as UCSB returns with its core of regulars, losing only two consistent contributors in Castillo and senior driver Stefan Partelow. USC on the other hand is graduating six players, while Stanford is losing three and UCLA losing two, including MPSF Player of the Year Scott Davidson. With this in mind, Santa Barbara could very well be the team to put its opponents in hot water come 2010.