This past weekend, the No. 5 UCSB men’s water polo team (10-6 overall, 0-1 MPSF) hit a bump in the road, losing to No. 1 Stanford in a heartbreaking final second loss. Despite the defeat, the Gauchos have proved they can compete with any team.
“We’ve seen we can play with anyone in the country,” Head Coach Wolf Wigo said. “It’s a really young team, but the young players are stepping up more than I had hoped.” The Mountain Pacific Sports Federation is composed of nine teams, eight of which are the top eight in the nation.
“Water polo is a pretty small world,” junior attacker Jesse Gillespie said. “We know all of the top players and what they’re capable of.”
Therefore, the preseason was crucial for the Santa Barbara to gain experience, especially since the team comprises 17 freshman and no seniors.
“We had a lot of freshman or people who haven’t played in college games before, so getting the experience was really important,” Gillespie said. “We definitely are a strong team even with a majority of freshman.”
Even with a rigorous upcoming schedule, the Gauchos believe they can crack into the top four and make the NCAA tournament.
“Obviously we want to make NCAAs, but our goal is to turn some heads,” sophomore two meter guard Scott Bishop said. “SB hasn’t been in the top four for a while. I’d be stoked to have people scared of us and know about us.”
Thus far, the Gauchos’ strength has been their versatile offense, which holds 3rd place in the MPSF with 206 total goals. Through UCSB’s 17 games, nine different players have led the team in scoring.
“We’ve got a lot of pure shooters and a lot of people that can hurt you,” Wigo said.
Still in need of improvement is the defense, which gives up 7.47 goals per game. Against Stanford, UCSB gave up the game-winning goal with only four seconds remaining, despite controlling the entire match.
“We’re constantly working on defense, especially at the end of a game since the players don’t have the experience,” Wolf said.
UCSB has two strong keepers. The Gauchos rotate goalkeepers Myles Christian and Jay Lovero depending on the matchup.
“They’re both great goalies with different strengths and weaknesses,” Wigo said. “[Myles] really blocks the ball well. Jay is a little more mobile, getting more steals.”
Christian ranks second in saves per game with 10.79. His play was crucial this past weekend in the effort against Stanford, tallying seven saves.
“Myles had the game of his life, coming up with several critical blocks,” Gillespie said.
Up next for UCSB is a match at UC San Diego tomorrow at 6 p.m.