UCSB Men’s Water Polo Beats #1 USC For First Time in Three Decades; Gauchos’ Best Start Ever

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Wolf Wigo (center) and the Gauchos are off to an historic start—thanks to a huge win over #1 USC. Photo Courtesy: UCSB Athletics

The news came like a thunderclap; #1 University of Southern California, the defending national champions, lost a match in their opening weekend of play for the first time since 1996. Adding insult to injury, the 13-9 defeat came at the hands of UC Santa Barbara, a team that had not beaten the Trojans in almost 30 years (1990)—a streak of 55 straight defeats.

Clearly, in the absence of SC’s long-time head coach Jovan Vavicfired last March as part of the Varsity Blues scandal—there’s a new world order in men’s and women’s water polo. Case in point: one-time #4 Cal (3-3) lost twice this weekend. It’s the first time this has happened so early in the season during Head Coach Kirk Everist’s 18 year tenure leading the Golden Bears.

Luckily, UCLA and Stanford were playing exhibition matches against Pro Recco, the Italian professional club that contains eight members of Italy’s national team that claimed the 2019 FINA World Championship—so the Bruins’ and Cardinal’s lofty positions in the Collegiate Water Polo Association polls will not be threatened this week.

[CWPA Top 20 Poll; Gauchos of UC Santa Barbara Beat Cal, Rise to #4]

Based upon their strong start to the season, can UCSB be denied recognition as the nation’s top team? If ranked number one, it would be the first time since the Gauchos won the NCAA tournament back in 1979. Wolf Wigo’s squad has opened at 9-0 for the first time in program history; the NCAA champs opened at 7-1-1, and lost to Cal, the runners-up in the ’78 tournament; they would lose one more match all season.

UCSB features an explosive offense anchored by Cole Brosnan, Ivan Gvozdanovi and Jacob Halle—and sport a two-headed goalie arrangement, with newcomer Danny Roland, architect of last week’s telling upset of then #4 Cal, sharing netminding duties with Tiago Bonchristiano, last year’s primary goalie.

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You think these guys are excited?! Photo Courtesy: Eric Isaacs

Against USC, the Gauchos enjoyed leads of 4-1 and 10-6 before winning comfortably behind Brosnan’s five goals and three assists as well as ten saves by Roland. With wins over Cal, #5 Long Beach State and #7 Pepperdine in addition to their defeat of USC, no one in the country has played a tougher schedule—and had more success—than UCSB.

On the other coast, the Tritons of UC San Diego came East for the Princeton Invitational where they were stars of the tournament through Saturday night, when Harvard stepped in and proved the East could compete with a top team from the West. Before that 12-11 win by the Crimson—which moves Ted Minnis’ team to 5-0 early in the season—the Tritons were in a wild game with the host Tigers on Friday night.

Princeton broke out to a 3-0 lead, and led all the way until the fourth quarter, when UCSD’s Karlo Krmek beat Billy Motherway three minutes in to give the Tritons an 8-7 lead. With a minute left, Connor Turnbow-Lindenstadt, the Tritons’ All-American from Newport Harbor, muscled a shot past Motherway in front but paid for it with a bloody nose. After Princeton’s Yurian Quinones made it a one goal game with a power play goal with 39 seconds remaining, things got very strange.

UCSD head coach Denny Harper ordered a stall for his team’s possession, admonishing them that they had no timeouts remaining. UCSD burned the clock down to 9 second left but inexplicably deposited the ball mid-tank, where Princeton took over. With a second remaining there was a scramble for the ball at the five-meter mark in the Tritons’ half. It appeared that Quinones was setting up for a last gasp shot after an ordinary foul—but then all hell broke loose.

[39 Years And Counting In The Triton Family]

The referee on the pool deck was certain that Harper called time-out; doing so without the ball results in a five-meter penalty shot which—much to Harper’s dismay—was the call. After a few choice words, the UCSD coach was red carded and left the deck before Princeton’s Keller Maloney beat the Trirton goalie Jack Turner, equalizing the match at 9-all.

After a brief intermission—and now led by Matt Ustaszewski, Harper’s assistant the past 10 years—the Triton quickly broke out on top in the first overtime behind Skyler Munatones’ goal. Cooper Milton then gave his team a referee-proof lead half a minute later, beating Motherway with the Tigers a man down. A late goal by Maloney—his third of the match—late in the second overtime period made it a one-goal contest, but there was no intervention before time ran out on an 11-10 Triton win.

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Princeton’s Keller Maloney. Photo Courtesy: Nicole Maloney

A perfect UCSD run in Princeton was halted by an inspired Harvard effort, as Crimson goalie Noah Hodge made ten saves while Jackson Enright and Charlie Owens each produced hat-tricks to counter three-goal efforts by Munatones and Konstantin Karlov.

While the Tritons fly back home taking three of four from the best the East has to offer—UCSD also beat #14 Bucknell and #17 St. Francis Brooklyn—Harvard and Princeton can focus on regional opponents. The Tigers host Wagner and Navy this weekend, while the Crimson will travel to Lewisburg, PA to face, among others, #15 George Washington. Both will be far, far away for the amazing action out West—with more twists to come.

2 comments

    • avatar
      Michael Randazzo

      Dear Thomas:

      Yes, congratulations are in order! There’s no question in my mind that the fantastic start to the 2019 season by UCSB is the BIGGEST story in American polo. What may be questionable is: can the Gauchos sustain this momentum? Their next test will come this Friday, when they face Stanford in Palo Alto; wouldn’t THAT be the upset of the week (of course, what tops beating the national champs on their first weekend of play).

      More to come on this development; let’s hope the pecking order of MWP is ready for more turbulence.

      Your correspondent