After a competitive performance in the SoCal tournament, the UCSB men’s water polo hopes to get its first conference win since Nov. 2, 2013 when it goes against LBSU on Saturday and hosts USC on Sunday.
“The first three games I thought we played really well,” Head Coach Wolf Wigo said. “We have some good momentum now going to Long Beach.”
The Gauchos come into this weekend with an overall record of 11-6 and are 0-2 in MPSF play which is tied for lowest. The 49ers will host UCSB on Saturday at 5-9 overall and are also 0-2 in MPSF conference play. The Trojans, currently at 15-2 with a 3-0 record in MPSF play, will head out to Santa Barbara for a Sunday match.
The Gauchos are no strangers to LBSU as this Saturday will mark the fourth match-up between these two teams. UCSB has won all previous meetings this season against LBSU, including a 12-6 victory this past Sunday. The 49ers have struggled mightily against Santa Barbara averaging 6.3 points against them this season, their lowest total against any one team.
“Defense is really the number one thing,” Wigo explained. “We want to make sure they earn every goal. If we do that we will find the back of the net enough to win.”
One player who has played especially well for the Gauchos lately is sophomore attacker Shane Hauschild. The 2014 MPSF Freshman of the Year added nine goals at the SoCal tournament, including three against LBSU, which led the team. The sophomore attacker leads the team in goals as well as points with 25 and 38, respectively.
“He’s been playing great this year,” Wigo said. “He has a tremendous shot. If you leave him open for a second too long he is accurate and he will make the other team pay.”
Another player who has played well is junior Mitchell Hamilton. Hamilton spent his first two years at Cal. He played well there, scoring 16 goals in both seasons. However, the junior attacker has been a great addition to the Gauchos as he leads the team in steals with 16 and has already tied his career high in goals scored at 16.
“I love Santa Barbara.” Hamilton said. “The guys really welcomed me when I came to the pool and coach Wigo, the captains, everyone is doing a great job. I think we really have a great chance at winning MPSF.”
If LBSU hopes to break out of their three-game losing streak, both to Santa Barbara and their overall season, they will need key performances from redshirt freshman Austin Stevenson and senior Dimitros Lappas. Both are tied for most goals scored on the team with 16. The 49ers will also need to avoid slow starts as they have been outscored by opponents in the first half 71-47.
The Gauchos will then travel back home after their match against LBSU to face off against the Trojans at noon the next day. The Trojans are the top team in MPSF conference play heading into the weekend. These two teams are also no strangers as they met each other at the SoCal invitational with USC winning the match 10-8.
“We started off the game in a bad position.” Hamilton said. “We went down a bunch of goals but we were able to come back and make it a game but it wasn’t enough. If we are ready off the bat who knows.”
If Santa Barbara wants to pull off the upset, then it will have to find a way to stop Australian national team member Blake Edwards who has scored 47 goals this season, second highest in the MPSF. The junior driver also scored four goals against UCSB on Saturday with three coming in the first half alone. Sophomore Grant Stein is also a key player for USC scoring four goals against the Gauchos on Saturday with three in the second half alone.
UCSB certainly has the players to play a great defensive match, especially when being led by senior goalkeeper Chris Whitelegge. Whitelegge continued his dominance totaling 51 saves this weekend and jumping up to the seventh most saves in MPSF history with 771.
The Trojans’ 10 points on Saturday against the Gauchos was the fourth lowest total they had been held to all year. Clearly, Santa Barbara can keep up with the second best team in the nation, but they need to prove they can do more than just keep up; they need to prove they can win against a team of this caliber.
“USC is a strong team and really disciplined,” Hamilton said. “But we are going to play our own game not USC style water polo.”
UCSB is set to play at noon against LBSU Saturday at Long Beach before coming back home to host USC at the same time Sunday.
A version of this article appeared on page 14 of October 15, 2015’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.