September 4, 2009

Gaucho Men's Water Polo Prepared to Rise to the Top in 2009

Sept. 4, 2009

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Thirty years ago the UC Santa Barbara men's water polo team did something no other Gaucho program had - it won a NCAA Division I title. Three decades later, the Gauchos hope to finally bring the men's water polo national title back to Santa Barbara.

Since the 2005 season, when head coach Wolf Wigo made his debut on the deck at Campus Pool, the Gauchos have ascended back into the upper echelon of collegiate water polo and have finished the past three seasons ranked sixth nationally. This year, UCSB aims to finish the season at the top of the heap.

"Our goal is to win the NCAA Championship," Wigo said. "Our expectations are that it's going to be difficult. There are some really good teams this year, but this is the first year that we are in a position to realistically potentially win.

"Obviously you always want to win (the title), but in the past we didn't really have the roster to do it," Wigo continued. "We have all the positions now and all the players are ready to go."

Attackers
Two key factors in the Gauchos' run for the NCAA title are junior attackers Milos Golic and Zsombor Vincze. "Those are the two most dominant scorers, not only on our team, but in the country. I feel they are two of the top-five players in the country," Wigo assessed.

Golic capped off a great sophomore season with First Team All-American honors after leading the Gauchos with 82 goals and pacing the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation with an average of 3.03 goals per game. The native of Belgrade, Serbia already ranks 13th in the Gaucho record books for career goals with just two seasons under his belt.

Vincze, who sat out the 2008 season as a medical redshirt, will rejoin the active roster this fall. In his first two seasons on the team, he earned consecutive Honorable Mention All-MPSF accolades and tallied a total of 74 goals.

"If we are going to win, Milos is going to need to have the year he had last year, if not better," Wigo said. "And Zsombor is going to have to match that or exceed it as well. Those guys are going to have to be big threats to all opposing teams."

In addition to the tag team of Golic and Vincze, the Gauchos return a pair of very experienced seniors to their attack: Sean Castillo and Stefan Partelow.

Castillo has played in 87 games during his three years with UCSB and has tallied 35 goals and dished out 50 assists - including a career-high 19 in 2008.

"Sean is coming off a great summer season and has been playing very well," Wigo said. "He is a very smart player with a great shot, great legs and a great overall vision of the game." Partelow is another four-year player with lots of game experience. The driver played in all 27 games last season and tallied 16 goals and 12 assists.

"Stefan is a very physical player and he's very fast," Wigo said. "He gets up on a lot of counterattacks, so he will be able to push the counter for us and he can also put the ball away."

Sophomore Ryen Flint will also help power the Gauchos' attack after seeing limited time during his freshman season.

"Ryen is a very versatile player who can play in any of the perimeter positions," Wigo said. "He is very good on the right side of the pool where the lefthanders usually are, so if our lefties are in foul trouble, he can fill in there."

Two-Meters
Sophomore Noah Smith will serve as the Gauchos' primary two-meter man this season. During his freshman campaign, he tallied 21 goals and was second on the team with 38 drawn penalties or ejections.

"He has been getting in good shape, so he can play a good amount of the game," Wigo said. "He had a very strong freshman year and we are only expecting him to get better and better. He played great during the summer and hopefully he can be a dominant force at two-meters."

After redshirting the 2008 season, freshman Brian Shoemaker will finally make his debut for UCSB. The three-time high school All-American and one-time South Florida Player of the Year will help give the Gauchos depth in the center.

"Brian is not as big as Noah physically, but he is very strong and a very creative player," Wigo commented.

True freshman and walk-on Teddy Zhang could also make an impact at two-meters for UCSB in 2009. Zhang arrives in Santa Barbara from Skyline High School in Salt Lake City, Utah where he was a two-time All-State player.

"He is a huge force at set," Wigo said. "He is a fast player, smart and he could see playing time right away."

A trio of two-meter defenders can also post-up when necessary: senior Kendell Olds, junior Brian Bishop and freshman Dylan Bailiani.

"They are primary two-meter defenders but they are all also talented at setting as well," Wigo remarked. Sophomore Sam Evans rounds out the crew of two-meter defenders.

"He is very tall and long at 6-8," Wigo said. "He's very good at getting his arms around (the opposing two-meter player), getting steals and taking away a lot of the passing area into set."

Utility
The Gauchos have several utility players this season that can step-up and play several roles when needed. Junior Joe Plume - who joined the water polo team last fall after originally coming to UCSB as a swimmer - can play as a driver or set two-meters from time to time.

"Joe is a very fast, very physical player," Wigo commented. "He improved a lot over the last year and should get some playing time."

Freshmen Evan Dellinger and Matt Gronow also bring versatility to the 2009 roster.

Dellinger comes to UCSB from Saint Francis High School where he was an All-American and a two-time All-Central Coast Section pick.

"Evan has a tremendous shot," Wigo assessed. "He is a strong, smart player. He could hit the ground running and be able to play right away."

Gronow, a lefthander, comes to UCSB from Melbourne, Australia.

"Matt is very fast, very physical and good on the counterattack," Wigo said. "He has very good vision on the six-on-five and that should help our power play tremendously."

Goalkeepers
The goalkeeping staff should once again be a strong this season with junior Fraser Bunn leading the group. In 2008, he started 14 games in goal and averaged 10.4 saves per game. While he split time with alum Michael Robinson throughout most the season, Bunn eventually earned the starting role and helped lead the Gauchos to a win over Stanford and over UC Irvine in the MPSF Tournament fifth-place game.

After redshirting the 2008 season, freshman Myles Christian will join the active roster and give Bunn some competition for the starting role. Christian was a First Team All-American while at Newport Harbor High School.

"Myles has really come on strong and he is pushing Fraser for the spot," Wigo remarked. "Right now Fraser is the starting goalie, but Myles is very capable and I wouldn't hesitate if Fraser seems off to put Myles in right away."

Incoming freshman Jay Lovero also joins the very deep goalkeeping staff, though he may redshirt this season. Lovero was the CIF and Seaview League Player of the Year in 2008 and also earned All-American honors at Foothill High School.

"Jay was the top high school goalie in the country and he is doing a great job and will push both of these guys," Wigo commented.

Rounding out the staff is junior Russell Russo.

"Russell is a tireless worker and is always making the goalies work as hard as they can because they don't want to be outdone by him," Wigo said. "He's a good asset to the team."

With talent and depth in every position this season, Wigo believes that the true strength of the 2009 squad will lie in its balance.

"Teams are going to want to press out on Milos and Zsombor and if teams are pressing out on top, Noah or any one of our centers will be able to take the ball and put it into the cage or if they get fouled hard, they can draw the ejection.

"It is going to be hard for the teams to take one thing away and not leave something else open," Wigo continued. "Now we have a strong lefthander on the right side of the pool, so teams are not going to be able to drop from there and press the strong shooters. There are really no gaps in our offense. It's really exciting."

While UCSB is hoping that this is the year they will reclaim the national championship, the Gauchos could be poised at another run for the title in 2010.

"We definitely have a base to the team and most of the players will be returning next year, but we really want to go for it right away, this year," Wigo concluded.

The Gauchos will begin their pursuit this weekend when they open the season at the UC San Diego Triton Invitational. No. 7 ranked UCSB will face No. 10 UC San Diego in the first game of the tournament at noon on Saturday at La Jolla High School's Coggan Family Aquatics Center.

UCSB Athletics is proud to introduce GKids - its new official kids club! GKids members will receive a free GKids t-shirt, free admittance to tons of Gaucho games, opportunities to be ball boys and girls at games, a special birthday greeting from Olie (the new GKids mascot) and much, much more! For more information on GKids, or to become a member, please click here.

- UCSBgauchos.com -