The No. 6 UCSB men’s water polo team will travel to UCLA this weekend to play against No. 12 Pepperdine and some of the other best teams in the nation in the So Cal Tournament.
The Gauchos are coming off a weekend where they had their first two league matches of the season, with both ending in losses. UCSB traveled to USC and lost to the Trojans 14-5 and on Sunday, UCSB hosted Long Beach State and lost a hard-fought match 14-12. The team currently stands 8-4 overall and 0-2 in MPSF play.
“There were a lot of positives coming out of [last] weekend, so our morale is not too low,” senior goalie Chris Whitelegge said. “We are really looking for more consistency. Against USC our offense struggled, and then against Long Beach our offense was great, but our defense struggled.”
The Gauchos hope to improve in both offense and defense from this past weekend but they acknowledge that they played well at times. The team looks to work on its steadiness in all facets of the game.
UCSB will still be missing four key players, including junior attacker Matt Hamilton. He is expected to still be out with a concussion, which kept him out of past weekend’s matches.
“We aren’t looking towards anyone specific to step up, but instead it has to be a collective effort in order to prevail while missing some guys,” Whitelegge said. “We just need everyone to step up.”
The format of the tournament is set up so every team plays two games on Saturday and two on Sunday. The Gauchos take on Pepperdine in their first match on Saturday and the result will affect whom they play in their next match.
Pepperdine has a 6-6 record and is 0-2 in conference play. The Waves are coming off an 11-5 win versus Concordia on Oct. 4 and will look to beat higher ranked teams in this extremely competitive tournament.
Santa Barbara and the Waves have played once earlier this season, with UCSB coming out victorious with a 12-6 win in Malibu. In the game, junior attacker Ryan Baliani, senior utility Brendan McElroy and junior attacker Bryan Snyder each scored two goals, while Whitelegge made eight saves. The Gauchos hope for a similar effort against the Waves on Saturday.
“We won against [Pepperdine] in early September but we are not coming into this game high-headed,” said Whitelegge.
Pepperdine is led by redshirt junior Luke Hewko. The utility leads the team in goals with 34 in 12 games. He is a force that the Gauchos will look to contain in order to come out on top in this opening game.
“We’ve got four games to play this weekend so we need to play smarter and use our energy well, knowing that it’s going to be a tiring weekend,” Whitelegge said. “Our bench is depleted so we will need a lot of guys to come through and do their jobs.”
The Gauchos’ first match begins at 12:15 p.m. at the Spieker Aquatic Center and all their further matches will be determined based on the result of the contest against Pepperdine.
A version of this article appeared on page 13 of October 9, 2014’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.