Photo Courtesy of Estefani Zuniga

After almost a month of running roughshod through collegiate water polo, the UCSB men’s water polo team finally met their match last weekend at the SoCal Invitational.

The Gauchos, who came into the tournament as the No. 1 team in the country, won their first two games of the tournament against No. 20 San Jose State and No. 6 Pepperdine before falling to both No. 2 UCLA and No. 4 Pacific in their final two games. The 2-2 split dropped UCSB to 15-2 this season and garnered the team a fourth-place finish in the Invitational.

UCSB handled San Jose State with some ease in their 11-5 victory on Friday. The Gauchos never trailed, posting three early goals to jump out ahead in the first quarter, and then four straight goals at the end of the third and the start of the fourth to more or less seal the game.

Senior driver Tommy Fellner notched two of those four late goals, and had a team-leading three goals in the game. Three different Gauchos — junior attacker Cole Brosnan, senior attacker Jacob Halle and sophomore driver Nathan Puentes — had two goals as the team showed off a wide array of firepower.

Saturday morning’s game against Pepperdine was UCSB’s third matchup this season with the Waves, and their third victory. The previous game between the two was a 16-15 overtime nailbiter, but Saturday’s 14-10 Gaucho win was much more sedate.

Neither team was able to gain an edge in the first quarter, a high-scoring affair that ended with the Gauchos up 5-4. UCSB rattled the cage another five times in the second quarter against just two Pepperdine goals, which set the Gauchos up with a commanding lead they would never relinquish.

The Waves kept fighting in the second half, but each Pepperdine goal was eventually answered by a UCSB tally. Senior utility Ivan Gvozdanovic’s two goals in the fourth quarter kept the Waves at bay, and, along with a first quarter tally, gave Gvozdanovic a hat trick.

It was another balanced offensive performance for the Gauchos. Brosnan and Halle both scored twice again, and were joined in that category by sophomore driver Ryan Brosnan and junior attacker Leo Yuno.

Junior defender Mason McQuet was a menace defensively with four steals and also handed out three assists, both team-leading tallies.

Later that same day, the Gauchos took on UCLA and lost their first game of the season. UCSB never led, but also never trailed by more than two goals in the back-and-forth 9-8 loss.

The Bruins scored first with a crucial first-strike just three minutes into the game. The Gauchos responded a few minutes later, but were never able to plant themselves in the driver’s seat of the match.

A UCLA goal from sophomore attacker Ashworth Molthen put the Bruins up 6-5 with two seconds left on the clock in the first half, and the two teams simply traded goals after that point. It was largely a defensive struggle, with only six goals total in the second half.

Yuno scored midway through the fourth quarter to tie the game at eight apiece, but the Gauchos were unable to break the deadlock in their favor after that. It was another goal from Molthen, instead, that pushed the Bruins ahead one last time with under a minute left in the fourth.

Gvozdanovic was again crucial to UCSB’s performance, but in a very different way; the senior dished out three assists and tallied five steals against the Bruins. Sam Nangle led the Gauchos with two goals, while redshirt freshman goalkeeper Danny Roland made seven saves and snatched up three steals.

The Gauchos closed up their SoCal Invitational with another tough loss, this one a tough 11-10 upset at the hands of Golden Coast Conference rivals University of the Pacific. Once again, UCSB never led but instead played catch-up all game.

The Tigers by and large controlled the match from the jump with a 3-1 opening quarter, but UCSB kept them honest with four goals in the second to trim the lead to 6-5 heading into halftime. Pacific managed to stay at least a step ahead throughout the third period, relying on Jeremie Cote and his three third-period goals.

Down 10-8 with just over three minutes to go, the Gauchos launched one last attempt at victory. Yuno and Cole scored back-to-back goals to finally even the ledger and give UCSB a shot at a comeback.

One last Pacific goal, however, shut the comeback down with 1:04 to go in the fourth. The Gauchos were unable to muster another response, and earned their second-straight loss.

Yuno and Cole both scored hat tricks and together accounted for more than half of UCSB’s offensive output, a somewhat unusual result for the team. Gvozdanovic again led the team in steals with three, but no other Gaucho was able to do much to inhibit the Tigers’ attack.

UCSB hosts USC on Sunday at Campus Pool in their second meeting of the year. The Gauchos will look to reprise their earlier 13-9 victory when the game kicks off at 12:00 p.m.