The UCSB men’s water polo team broke a long losing streak with two wins last weekend. Now, they’ll get a chance to prolong the slide of one of their conference rivals.
The Gauchos host UC Irvine on Saturday at Campus Pool in their first matchup of the season.
The No. 14 Anteaters have lost seven games in a row and sit at 6-10 overall and 0-2 in Golden Coast Conference (GCC) play.
A losing team is a hungry team, so UCI will jump into the pool with plenty of motivation to pull off the upset. UCSB knows that feeling well.
The Gauchos snapped their five-game losing streak with wins over No. 6 Long Beach State and No. 8 California last weekend, finally securing close wins after losing several heartbreakers. The two wins pushed UCSB to 17-5 this season and 1-1 in the GCC, keeping the team ranked at No. 4 in the nation.
Even with a couple wins and a little momentum under their belts, the Gauchos still can’t afford to take the Anteaters lightly, despite UCI’s losing record and extended rough patch.
That’s because the Anteaters’ record and current rough patch aren’t as bad as they might first appear to be. All of the Anteaters’ 10 losses have come against higher-ranked teams, and UCI has beaten No. 9 UC San Diego and No. 13 LMU.
Irvine lacks an on-paper intimidation factor, but they’re without a doubt a capable water polo team. The Anteaters have rebounded after a tough four-game offensive stretch to start the season and have scored at least 10 goals in all but four of their games since then.
The Anteater attack has one main point of the spear: junior utility Jason Evezard.
The South African athlete has 33 goals this season, almost 20 more than the next Irvine attacker on the list. Evezard set the UCI program record for goals in a match earlier this season with nine against Cal Baptist. Stopping Evezard, or at least limiting him, will be a huge priority for the UCSB defense.
The junior hasn’t scored more than 2 goals in any game during the Anteaters’ seven-game losing streak, and his supporting cast has struggled to make up for that.
Freshman Harrison Land started most of the season in goal for Irvine but hasn’t played since Oct. 5.
Senior Chandler Mankins and freshman Collin Winters have alternated as goalies in Land’s stead, but neither have been able to help reverse UCI’s fortunes.
Whichever Irvine goalie is in the water will be facing off against a Gaucho attack that can get its goals from a wide variety of players. Sophomore driver Nathan Puentes scored 6 goals himself against Cal last Sunday, but that was a deviation from the norm.
Both Brosnan brothers, junior attacker Cole and sophomore driver Ryan, have been effective on the attack all season, and sophomore attacker Sam Nangle, redshirt sophomore Leo Yuno and senior utility Ivan Gvozdanovic can all light it up as well.
Every Gaucho attacker will have an opportunity to make noise against a UCI defense that has allowed double-digit goals in all but three games this season.
If that opportunity isn’t enough, UCSB will have the added motivation of Senior Day proceedings before the game. Saturday’s game is the team’s last home game of the season, making this the last opportunity for seniors Gvozdanovic, Tommy Fellner and Jacob Halle to play in front of the Campus Pool crowd in their careers.
The fact that the Gauchos are graduating only three players throws the youth of this UCSB team into focus. These three seniors have provided experience and guidance for their younger teammates and have earned the ceremony they’ll receive before the game.
UCSB hosts UC Irvine on Saturday at 12 p.m. at Campus Pool.