UCSB men’s club water polo is getting ready for a big weekend at the state championships in San Luis Obispo, where they earned the third seed after placing second in the Southern Regional Finals last weekend.

The team improved to 6-5 after earning big victories over two nationally ranked opponents, defeating #6 UC Irvine 11-9 in the first round and #3 USC — which was previously undefeated — 14-8 in the second round. The Gauchos lost the final match to #1 UCLA 11-8.

“The team really stepped it up for our first two games,” Head Coach Travis Allain said of their performance in the tournament.

After its success, the team is now ranked #5 in the country according to the Collegiate Water Polo Association.

Junior captain Paul Nagle said they intended to be in the top 10 after their performance against top-ranked competition like USC.

“We smashed ‘em,” Nagle said.

Senior driver Chris Holmblad described the game against USC as very physical.  Fortunately for the Gauchos, they proved to be the more physical team.

“There was lots of fighting and cheap shots,” Holmblad said.  “You can’t buy wins.”

Nagle shared similar sentiments after getting his jaw elbowed by an opponent.

“USC is kind of notorious for being dirty,” Nagle explained.  “It was probably the dirtiest game [we’ve played]. It was pretty cool beating the snot out of them.”

The third-seeded Gauchos will be facing sixth-seeded UC Berkeley this Saturday at 3 p.m.  The second round game will be played later that day, and the final game is set for Sunday.

Nagle expressed confidence in the team’s first round match up with Berkeley and hopes the team goes farther than last year.  In 2009, the Gauchos lost in the semifinals of the state championships, giving them a third place finish.

“We have a colorful team with strong senior leadership, a few grad students and some talented freshman coming off a summer with the intercollegiate team,” Nagle said.

“We haven’t gotten a chance to see them play,” Allain said of Berkeley.  “So everyone will be coming into the game prepared and ready to play out the game.”

“We think we’re gonna beat them,” Nagle said.  “The top three from the north aren’t as good as the top three from the south.”  The state championships include the top four teams from both the northern and southern regions.

If they win, the Gauchos will likely play UC Davis in the second round top-seeded UCLA in the championship.

“There’s a lot of respect between us and UCLA,” Nagle mentioned.  “Their game last weekend was clean compared [to the USC game].”

The team that wins at the state level will advance to Nationals.  Nagle explained that there are more quality teams in California than in the rest of the country.

“It’s almost easier to win Nationals,” he said.

Holmblad also holds high expectations for this weekend, assuming the whole team makes the trip.

“We have the most talent [out of anyone in the tournament], but we have a problem with commitment,” Holmblad said.  “We haven’t played a single game this season with all our starters.  If we can get everyone to show up, we can do very well.”