Despite compiling an impressive 13-4 record to begin its season, the No. 6 men’s water polo team will start fresh this weekend at 0-0 when it plays its first Mountain Pacific Sports Federation games of the year.
The Gauchos will travel to No. 8 Pepperdine Saturday before returning home Sunday to take on No. 5 UC Berkley in a rematch of last weekend’s fifth place game at the SoCal Tournament.
At that tournament, Santa Barbara finished sixth, defeating lower-ranked No. 7 LBSU and No. 11 Concordia while falling to No. 5 Cal and No. 3 Pacific.
With all MPSF teams at the SoCal Tournament last weekend, the Gauchos got a taste of its competition to come. Nevertheless, Saturday’s matchup against Pepperdine will be the first game between the two teams this season.
Although standing at 7-6, the Waves head into the game with momentum, having won four of their last five games.
The factor that may most impact the result of Saturday’s game is the play of Pepperdine’s leading scorer and redshirt sophomore utility Luke Hewko. Hewko ranks first on the team in goals scored with 43 on the year, including 19 this past weekend at the SoCal Tournament. In the Waves’ final game of the tourney, Hewko dominated, tallying a season-high seven goals.
Then on Sunday, Santa Barbara will look for revenge against Cal after a tough 11-3 loss last weekend.
In that game, the Gauchos struggled offensively, earning one goal only in each of first three quarters and none in fourth. The Golden Bears, on the other hand, went on a 5-1 run to start the game and never looked back, improving to 11-4 on the year.
Eight players scored a goal for Cal, with junior attacker Aleksa Saponjic (an Olympian for Serbia) leading the way with three goals. Saponjic, who played at the 2012 Olympics for Serbia, currently has 24 goals on the season and makes up one piece of the Golden Bears’ balanced attack.
To be victorious, UCSB will need to improve its offense. To do so, the Gauchos will rely on senior attacker Matt Gronow, who anchors Santa Barbara’s attack with a team-high 38 goals on the season. Not far is behind is junior attacker Derek Shoemaker with a total of 31 goals.
Saturday’s game against Pepperdine will start at noon at Raleigh Runnels Memorial Pool. Sunday’s home game against Cal will also begin at noon at Campus Pool.
A version of this article appeared on page 6 of October 17th’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Kevin Yang of the Daily Nexus.