The No. 6 UCSB men’s water polo team approaches another important weekend of conference play with a game at home against No. 8 UC Irvine on Saturday, followed by a road trip for a game against No. 2 Stanford on Sunday.
UCSB is coming off of a weekend of split matches after defeating No. 7 Long Beach State on the road, and falling to No. 1 USC at home, leaving the Gauchos with an overall record of 15-6 and an MPSF conference record of 2-2.
UC Irvine is currently in last place in the MPSF conference standings (11-7, 0-2 MPSF), and Stanford (13-4, 2-1 MPSF) is tied for second place with UCLA.
“If we do our job, and play our game we should beat Irvine, and Stanford should be a good game,” sophomore goalkeeper Chris Whitelegge said. “They’re a good team, but I think if we can focus on defense it’s going to be close”
Last weekend’s games demonstrated that the Gaucho offense has been quick to strike in the first two periods, but the test lies in whether or not the Gaucho defense can maintain a lead throughout the second half.
“For the most part we have done well shot blocking, but it’s never enough. We can always get more blocks, we just really need to focus down on those last few seconds,” Whitelegge said.
UC Irvine is heading into Santa Barbara on a five-game losing streak, and the last time they met in 2012 the Gauchos came away with a 13-7 victory. Although Gaucho offense has been gaining momentum late in the season, UC Irvine’s senior driver Mitch Wise is likely to stand as an equal offensive threat, leading the Anteaters with 59 goals on the season.
Stanford, on the other hand, will host the Gauchos in Palo Alto for their fourth home game in a row, hoping to build on their three-game winning streak. In their last match against Pepperdine, freshman goalkeeper Drew Holland and the Stanford defense held Pepperdine almost scoreless for the entire game, with a final score of 11-3. In addition to their strong defense, sophomore driver Bret Bonanni is leading the Cardinal with 73 goals on the season.
Aside from the offensive and defensive strengths of Irvine and Stanford, the raw numbers demonstrate that UCSB is up for the challenge. Whitelegge has led the Gaucho defense with 10 saves in each of the past two games, and senior attacker Matt Gronow is the leading scorer with 49 goals on the season.
“We are currently on pace to be where we want to be at the end,” Assistant Coach John Abdou said.
Saturday’s game against UC Irvine will begin at noon at the Campus Pool.
A version of this article appeared on page 6 of October 31, 2013’s print edition of The Daily Nexus.
Photo by Kevin Yang of The Daily Nexus.