November 25, 2009

30 Years Later, UCSB Reflects on First National Championship

Nov. 25, 2009

Thirty years ago today, at 8:42 pm, UC Santa Barbara won its first Division I National Championship. The 1979 men's water polo team defeated UCLA by way of an 11-3 blowout in the NCAA Championship game at Belmont Plaza Pool in Long Beach.

It was the Gauchos' first national title and only until the 2006 UC Santa Barbara men's soccer team won the second 27 years later in another championship showdown with the Bruins.

Prior to the start of the season, head coach Pete Snyder said, "I feel the 1979 team will be one of the strongest in the school's history."

Boy, was he right.

The 1979 Gauchos went on to set a program record with 28 wins (they posted a 28-2-1 overall record), a standard that has never been matched. That season, UCSB also had a record seven players earn All-American honors: Greg Boyer, John Dobrott, Craig Wilson, Dave Hendrickson, Mike Yates, Steve Mitchell and Dave Phillips.

Thirty years later, some of the members of that team reflect on their most prominent memories of their national championship season:

"My most prominent memory about the team was waiting for the championship game at the Golden Sails Inn in Long Beach. We had to stay extra hours at the hotel because we played the game in the evening. Normal checkout time was 12 noon. I asked for a room to stay extra time. Normally, the guys are pushing to stay in their own rooms, but in this case they were ok to be all in one room. Imagine 18 people in one room for 3-4 hours. Many of the guys slept, some watched TV, and all were quiet and thoughtful about the evening's competition versus UCLA. In retrospect, if felt like we were `bottling up' our energy for the biggest game of our lives.

"I was, of course, preparing the `game plan' speech, which I gave at about 4:30 or so. We had played UCLA 3-4 times before during that season, winning all of the games. So, my speech didn't deviate from our previous matches' preparation. It wasn't very long before we were in the vans heading to the pool. The rest, of course, is history.

"As a summation, this experience was one of the few, if not only, times that I felt pure cohesiveness in a group. It was definitely a `whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts' bond that I hope all of the young men felt."

Pete Snyder
UC Santa Barbara Head Coach (1977-93)

"Games, plays and scores don't stand out in my mind. What I remember most is that we were a tight group of friends that were totally committed to winning. Our scrimmages were intense every day and Pete didn't tolerate any lapse in focus. Every one of those workouts was a stepping-stone to our end goal: the NCAA Championship. We were in it together, everyone invested 100%.

"We were close friends out of the pool too, and that pervades to this day. Many of the '79 Gauchos are the core of our Santa Barbara Masters team that has won many Master's Nationals Championships, as well as the FINA World Masters in 2006. No other group of college water polo teammates has stayed together as a group like we have."

John Dobrott
Two-time All-American
Ranked third on the UCSB career goals list (214)

"My prominent memory of the championship year was how close the team became. There was a sense that this was a special group, I just didn't know it until it was over."

Craig Wilson
1979 All-American Goalkeeper
Three-time U.S. Olympian

"We were the first team to win a National Championship for UCSB and everyone rallied around us. The sense of togetherness was very prominent. We (some of the guys from that team and I) still play Master's water polo and we have won a couple of National Championships together. We have our core group of guys. There is a sense of family with my former water polo team."

Dave Hendrickson
1979 All-American

"Being a member of a team of Gauchos that did not accept or believe in the long and well established winning traditions of the other teams (Stanford, UCLA, USC, Cal, etc.). We overcame that enormous mental barrier of past Gaucho teams (as formidable as some were) by becoming physically and mentally superior to our opponents. Of course we did that by knowing, appreciating and respecting each other and accepting the roles that we made for one another - the core of our team. We were, and continue to be, a team for the ages."

Miles Yates
1979 All-American