The No. 2 UCSB men’s water polo team is playing some of its best water polo in recent history, thanks in large part to three pairs of brothers and the natural team chemistry that comes along with them. The three pairs of brothers, Brian and Derek Shoemaker, Dylan and Ryan Baliani and Bryce and Jake Miller, make this Gaucho water polo team a unique one.
“We have three pairs of brothers on this team, but it doesn’t really feel like that,” Derek Shoemaker said. “We all hang out like we are normal teammates and friends.”
The Shoemaker brothers were born in Hollywood, Florida before moving west, where they both starred in the pool at nearby Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta. For them, playing alongside each other has made these last two seasons even more special.
“I love having my brother on the team, going on team trips and playing in big games with my brother. [It’s] a pretty rare experience that we are trying to enjoy to the fullest for Brian’s final year here,” younger brother Derek Shoemaker said.
The older brother, Brian, is a fifth-year senior and one of two captains on the team. A solid all-around utility player, Brian has netted 19 goals, assisted eight others and earned 16 ejections or penalties so far this season.
“Brian’s our captain so he’s definitely one of the more experienced players along with Myles Christian, but he is one of our best defenders and shot blockers,” Derek said. “His ability to post up and draw exclusions makes him one of our best all around players.”
Not to be overshadowed, younger brother Derek Shoemaker is one of the many rising stars on the Gauchos roster and as a result he sees a ton of playing time. As a sophomore this season, Derek has 17 goals, 10 assists, 15 steals and has drawn 12 ejections or penalties.
“I like it because my brother and I know each other’s playing style and we complement each in the water,” Brian Shoemaker said. “He is a good outside shooter and attacker, whereas I’m able to post up and play in two meters. So far it’s been a lot of fun playing with him.”
While his big brother was already a star for the Gauchos, Derek had to make the choice of where to continue his water polo career coming out of high school. The question was tough: follow in his brother’s footsteps at UCSB or choose one of the many other great schools that were recruiting him as well.
“Having my brother here definitely played a huge role in me coming to Santa Barbara, but I made sure to check out the other schools who were recruiting me and after that it was an easy decision,” Derek said. “UCSB is always one of the top teams in the nation, but once I factored playing with my brother, living near my dad and of course living in Santa Barbara, it was a no brainer.”
Then, there are the Baliani brothers, both of whom were standouts at Murrieta Valley High School. The older brother, Dylan, is a redshirt junior and defensive stalwart at the 2-meter position. The younger brother, Ryan, is a redshirt freshman and sharp shooting attacker.
“We played two years together in high school and three more years together in club water polo,” Ryan said. “We have had a lot of success together and it definitely gives us an advantage.”
The brothers certainly found success while playing together in high school, as they were three-time CIF finalists and each earned numerous awards. Dylan was named to the First Team All-CIF Southern Section, First Team All-Southwest League honoree, and is a member of Murrietta Valley Hall of Fame. Following in his brother’s big footprints, Ryan also earned All-American, All-CIF Division II and All-Southwestern League honors.
“Most importantly, it makes us all better players,” Dylan Baliani said. “If you’re the older brother, you want to set a good example and you never want your little brother to beat you when you’re doing things like conditioning. So not only does it make for better team chemistry, but [makes us] better individual players as well.”
So far this season, Dylan has seven goals, five assists, three steals and three field blocks. Ryan has tallied four goals, six assists, three steals and earned four ejections or penalties.
Last, but certainly not least, are the Miller brothers: Bryce and Jake. Older brother Bryce is a redshirt sophomore, while Jake is a pure sophomore. Both attended Mira Costa High School and starred athletically in the pool and on the volleyball court.
“I’ve always played with my brother throughout high school, club and now here,” Jake Miller said. “So I can pretty much predict his every move or where he’s going to be. It is definitely an advantage for us and I know it’s probably the same for him.”
So far this season, Bryce is fourth on the team in goals with 19 and has blocked five field shots. In comparison, Jake has tallied 13 goals, eight assists, three steals and earned five ejections or penalties. Something the brothers have in common is their smarts. Both of them earned numerous scholar athlete distinctions in high school and all-academic team selections while here at UCSB.
“Bryce is a great shooter and we rely on his scoring,” sophomore teammate Bryan Snyder said. “Jake is a lot like a quarterback when teams run drops against us. He always seems to come up with clutch assists and goals.”
As with all brothers, competitiveness and altercations are natural. However, when the welfare of the overall team is at stake, these brothers always try to find a way to look past those fights and push each other to excellence.
“We have definitely had our share of disagreements, but I think it’s just our competitiveness and our way of pushing each other,” Derek Shoemaker said.
UCSB continues MPSF play when it hosts UCLA at noon at Campus Pool.