After another progressive weekend, the No. 6 UCSB Men’s water polo team looks to continue building its confidence heading into the latter part of the season when it takes on No. 7 UCI this Saturday.
“It’s a big game for us.” Head Coach Wolf Wigo said. “There’s a lot on the line but we are ready for them and we are excited.”
The Gauchos will host Saturday’s matchup, entering with an overall record of 13-8 and 2-4 in MPSF conference play. The win against SJSU last Friday helped propel UCSB into sixth place in the conference standings. The Anteaters come into Santa Barbara with a respectable 11-7 record and 1-3 in conference play. UCI has struggled as of lately, dropping to seventh in MPSF standings after a loss to UCLA last Sunday.
“The team is really playing well as a whole now.” Junior utility Reed Cotterill said. “We were all really happy with this weekend.”
These two teams met twice last year, splitting both games. UCI won the first matchup 9-6, but UCSB got its revenge, beating the Anteaters in the MPSF championships 10-5 in a consolation match for seventh place. However, Santa Barbara is more concerned with the team it will face this Saturday as opposed to past contests.
“This game is probably the biggest game of the year for us.” senior goalkeeper Chris Whitelegge said. “They are playing pretty well, but it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Although UCSB and UC Irvine faced each other twice last year, Saturday’s match is the first meeting between the two teams this season.
In addition, senior attacker Derek Shoemaker explained, “we’ve watched film on them. They’re a great team but we are ready and super excited.”
Key players for Irvine include junior utility Kyle Trush who leads the team in goals scored with 34, and junior driver Lovre Milos who is second on the team in goals scored with 31. Milos, a 2014 MPSF All-Academic player, is definitely dangerous, ranking second in the MPSF in goals scored at 92.
Leading UCI’s defense is senior goalkeeper Dylan Peterson. Peterson has started all 18 games for the Anteaters and has racked up an impressive 205 saves on the season. The senior goalkeeper also holds the MPSF game-high in saves this year with 20.
Keeping that in mind, the Santa Barbara offense will need to be as potent as it has been in the last few weeks. UCSB’s arsenal of versatile scorers makes the Gauchos’ offense unpredictable; any given weekend the team will have a different leading scorer. Last weekend junior utility Reed Cotterill played a huge role, scoring six goals over the course of two games, three in each match. Cotterill currently ranks fourth on the team in scoring with 20.
“It’s taken me awhile to get adapted to the team,” Cotterill said. “But it’s finally coming together. This weekend is really promising signs ahead.”
Additionally, the performance of senior attacker Derek Shoemaker is pivotal to UCSB’s success, as he is the team’s leading scorer. The senior now has 33 goals on the year after a season-high four-goal performance against Stanford. UCSB also has young stars like sophomore attacker Shane Hauschild and freshman driver Borislav Jovanovic to help with the scoring, with 28 and 24 goals respectively. Furthermore, senior goalkeeper Chris Whitelegge continues to add to his brilliant career as he is now only the seventh goalie in MPSF history to have over 800 saves with 816.
“Well I’m happy but it’s still all about the team.” Whitelegge said. “In terms of helping us as a team I hope my teammates can feed off me and keep pushing through.”
UCSB will need to establish balance on offense and defense if it wants to defend its home pool against a hungry UCI team. The Anteaters have lost five of their last six, including three-straight losses, meaning they are desperate for a victory to get back into MPSF play. Good news for the Gauchos is that this season they have yet to lose to a team ranked lower than them, outscoring those opponents 133-91.
Santa Barbara is set to take the pool against UCI Saturday, Oct. 31 at noon.