Sept. 2, 2005
If everyone really does love a good mystery, then the story of the 2005 UC Santa Barbara water polo team could be a New York Times bestseller.
The Gauchos enter the 2005 season with numerous new names and faces, the most prominent of which will never score a goal, block a shot, earn an ejection or for that matter, get wet during a match.
Wolf Wigo - a three-time Olympian and the 1994 NCAA Player of the Year at Stanford - is in his first year as head coach at UCSB, and as a newcomer he's got plenty of company.
"There are going to be a lot of new faces, we have some good young players who are unproven," Wigo said. "But I think it will be exciting to see how they perform. It could be a pretty good season or it could be what all the coaches' polls seem to think is going to happen."
Although ranked 11th nationally to open the 2005 season, the Gauchos were selected to finish ninth out of nine schools by the coaches of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.
Peppered in among the nine newcomers for UCSB will be a handful of key returnees. The Gauchos have three players on the active roster that scored 13 or more goals last season and a fourth who did not play in 2004, but scored 20 in 2003. Senior driver Ramiro Saldain (28 goals in 2004), sophomore driver Matt Tilburg (20 goals in 2003), sophomore left hander Robert Bauer (19 goals in 2004) and senior two-meter defender Jarrod Muenter (13 goals in 2004) will all be expected to make contributions. Additionally, sophomore driver Coulson Lantz, who scored three goals in 2004, should see an increased role.
"Ramiro (Saldain) is a power forward-type player for us," Wigo said. "Matt Tilburg is very talented offensively and he looks to be a key player for us with goals and assists as well. On the left side we have Robbie Bauer who is a big, strong guy. He can also go into two-meters and take a weak player there. Coulson Lantz will also be one of our key players, especially when we are 6-on-5."
While there are numerous newcomers, five in particular could have an impact. Junior two-meters Tyler Powell (Carpinteria, Calif./West Valley College) brings two years of community college experience and four freshmen, driver Mark Knudtsen (Los Altos, Calif./Bellarmine Prep), freshman left hander Dane Lindstrom (Lake Forest, Calif./El Toro HS), driver Miles Price (Canyon, Calif./Campolindo HS) and driver Chris Lantz (Carlsbad, Calif./Carlsbad HS), the brother of Coulson.
"Tyler Powell, a transfer from West Valley [College] is going to be at two-meters and we look to get some good production out of him," predicted Wigo. "We also have some great shooting freshmen who opted not to redshirt. Mark Knudtsen, Chris Lantz, Dane Lindstrom and Miles Price all have a lot of talent and, hopefully, they'll prove that they are key players as well."
In goal, UCSB will turn to a familiar new face. Sophomore Rick Wright (San Diego, Calif./University of San Diego HS) was the team's regular starter in 2003, but sat out the 2004 season. In 2003, Wright played 27.20 of a possible 31.00 matches, averaging 7.35 saves per game and a 7.61 goals against average. He will be backed-up by fellow sophomore James Street.
"Rick Wright is a very talented goalkeeper," Wigo commented. "Coming out of high school he was probably regarded as the best goalkeeper in the San Diego area. He's back, he's in good shape and he could be one of the top goalies in the country if he has a good year."
Wright will be a pivotal player for the Gauchos this season, particularly because Wigo plans to stress defense.
"Defense is our first priority," he began. "All coaches say it and I'm going to say it too. Defense comes first and that's the criteria for the players who are going to make the team, make the traveling squad and the players who play in the games. If players can't play defense, they won't be playing for us, no matter how talented they are offensively."
Wigo knows that his youthful team will take some time to develop, but he hopes to see progress as the season evolves.
"I think it takes a few years to really instill your personal philosophy into a program," he said. "A lot of players who have been in the program, or from are coming in from a high school program, don't have the habits that mesh with a system we're going to be playing. We're looking at some new defenses that these guys haven't played before and how they pick up on these defenses will determine how our season progresses,"
"We probably won't be that good at the beginning of the season, but I want to see progress as we move along. Even if we are not winning in the beginning or even if we are not winning at the end, as long as we're getting better and playing closer with the top teams in the country, that's what we want to see. We always want to be moving forward."