After finishing last season with a record of 8-8, the UCSB men’s lacrosse team entered the 2010 season ranked 11th in the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association and with something to prove. In their first game of the season on Friday, the Gauchos dropped a close game at UC Berkeley 10-6 but rebounded nicely in their second road test, beating Stanford 12-5 on Sunday.

The game against Cal went south quickly for Santa Barbara. The Golden Bears struck first about six minutes into the game, outscoring the Gauchos 4-1 in the first quarter. UCSB’s only goal came unassisted from senior captain and midfielder Ryan Sanders about eight minutes in. The second quarter did not treat UCSB much better than the first, as Cal scored twice more before Santa Barbara got its second goal of the game, delivered by Sanders with two minutes left. Cal managed to score once more with 30 ticks left and the Gauchos entered halftime trailing 7-2.

“I think that it was mostly nerves,” Head Coach Mario Waibel said. “We had a lot of new faces playing in front of a rowdy crowd and under the Friday night lights against an opponent that had something to prove.”

When the second half opened, it seemed the Gauchos had settled in and were preparing to mount a comeback. They managed to hold Cal scoreless in the third quarter and added two goals of their own to make it a three-goal game. However, any chance at a comeback unraveled in the fourth quarter. Although UCSB scored first, they were slowed down by penalties late in the quarter, which helped seal a four-point Cal victory.

“A few better bounces, and that is a different game,” Waibel said. “I think that we had taken control of the game until late fourth quarter penalties slowed us down.”

Entering Sunday’s game against Stanford, Santa Barbara showed no signs that Friday’s loss was still on its mind. The Gauchos scored twice before the Cardinal had a chance to respond, setting the tone in a game where they never trailed. UCSB scored three goals in all but the third quarter on their way to a 12-5 win — a win that showed they were over the nerves that had plagued them against Cal.

“We made several adjustments, but it really came down to less nerves and more execution from the opening,” Waibel said. “We played with more confidence all over the field and played together on both ends of the ball.”

Over the offseason, the Gauchos lost seven key players to graduation, including three-time All-American Chris Schaible. Add this to a schedule ranked among the top-10 most difficult in the nation and it is easy to see why UCSB wasn’t ranked higher than 11th. However, as coach Waibel says, preseason polls are just guesswork. He believes his team has the talent to deal with its tough schedule and make a run at a national title.

“We reloaded heavily in the offseason, recruiting a large and talented freshmen class,” Waibel said. “Top to bottom, we have the talent to get us there, but the team has to mature quickly to find success.”

UCSB’s next challenge comes in the form of archrival Cal Poly on Saturday. The game will be played at home in The Pit at 1 p.m.