The No. 6 UCSB men’s water polo team wraps up its regular season this Sunday in a televised game against No. 3 UCLA on the road.
After falling to Pacific last weekend, the Gauchos now hold an overall record of 16-8 and 3-4 in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation standings. The No. 3 Bruins have an overall record of 24-2 and are currently tied for third place with USC, holding a conference record of 4-1.
The Gauchos end their season on a challenging note having faced USC, Stanford and Pacific in the last three weeks. UCLA, another top ranked team, will be no exception to this streak.
“We are gaining experience, we are getting high level games in the fourth quarter and we are making big shots against great teams,” Head Coach Wolf Wigo said.
Momentum is an important factor that has been on the Gauchos’ side in their past few conference games and will carry them into the MPSF Championships. Although four of their last seven conference games have resulted in close-scoring losses, the Gauchos’ intense level of play and ever-improving defense has demonstrated that they are ranked in the top six for a reason.
“We need to keep our composure, and to really get to that next level we have to focus on our defense,” sophomore attacker Derek Shoemaker said. “I think that’s all it takes. We’re right there.”
Last Sunday, the Gaucho defense was able to hold No. 1 Pacific within a two-goal range.
A large contributor to their defensive success against Pacific was sophomore goalkeeper Chris Whitelegge with a total of 16 saves. Whitelegge is leading the MPSF with a total of 249 saves on the season and an average of 14.5 saves per game.
“Chris makes up for a lot of defensive mistakes we make as a team,” Assistant Coach John Abdou said. “He is the backbone.”
The Gaucho offense is equally making its mark late in the season. In their last game against Pacific, the Gauchos recorded an equal scoring effort with goals from seven different players. Senior attacker Matt Gronow is currently leading the Gauchos with 54 goals on the season.
UCLA has also had success late into the season with a 9-5 victory over Long Beach State last weekend.
The Bruins dominated the 49ers offensively and freshman goalkeeper Garrett Danner led the defense to secure the win. Danner has recorded 190 saves so far during his freshman season.
UCLA’s freshman attacker Lovre Milos is currently leading the Bruins with 36 goals on the season, followed close behind by junior attacker Paul Reynolds with 35 goals.
This Sunday’s game will start at 11 a.m. and will air on the Pac-12 network.
A version of this article appeared on page 6 of November 14th’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Eric Swenson of the Daily Nexus.