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After 17 matches’ worth of invitational meets and tournaments, Golden Coast Conference play for Men’s Water Polo is now finally upon us. To open up the new campaign, No.7 UCSB will be hosting No. 17 San Jose State this week.

The Gauchos are currently coming off of back to back losses to No. 4 Stanford and No. 1 USC, which explains Santa Barbara’s recent falling out of top 5 in the rankings. For the most part, September has been kind as the team is currently standing at an overall record of 12-5; however, those 5 losses have been to only top 5 programs.

This means that the squad will have to return to their winning ways, beginning with this week’s opponent, and have their calendars marked for those NCAA-ranked matchups later on in the season.

As for the Spartans, who are currently 4-4 on the year, they have just recently dropped out of the nation’s top 15 and will see this away game as a means of returning to form. San Jose State is also coming off back to back losses after falling short to No. 3 Cal and No. 4 Stanford; the latter had them defeated 3-16, whereas UCSB kept it much closer at 7-9.

Historically, the UCSB vs. San Jose State series has been a closely contested one as the Gauchos lead by only 12-11; last year the series went 2-1 in favor of the Gauchos, who dropped the conference matchup but claimed the postseason win.

Both teams will hope to improve, when it comes to Golden Coast Conference play, considering the Gauchos finished in 5th place and the Spartans ended dead last; both with 1-4 conference records. The remaining programs that share the conference are all top 12 in NCAA rankings: Pacific, Long Beach State, Pepperdine, and UC Irvine.

A player to watch for the Gauchos is number 10 Boris Jovanovic. This senior driver is the goal leader with 50 to his name already. He also has a team-leading 107 shots, so the offense will surely revolve around his ability to produce regularly.

In Sunday’s contest against the Trojans, Jovanovic was prevented from scoring. Smothering the Gauchos’ primary scoring option proved to be an effective strategy for the No. 1 team in the nation, as USC held UCSB to just 2 goals.

The Gauchos’ supporting cast will have to give better performances if opponents follow the Trojans’ example of containing Jovanovic, which seems likely.

Regardless, Santa Barbara is still more than capable of finding the net through its other weapons.

Another name to keep track of is number 9 Ivan Gvodanovic. The junior utility is one of the several playmakers on the team and leader in assists with 14 on the season. Look for these two to link up plenty come game time.

UCSB’s national ranking and impressive roster proves to be a promising glimpse of what’s left in store for Men’s Water Polo. With only 5 total conference meets and another invitational next weekend, expectations for the Gauchos will be set very high.

UCSB will host San Jose State this Friday, Oct. 5th, at 4 p.m.

A version of this story appeared on p. 7 of the October 4th, 2018, edition of the Daily Nexus.