September 4, 2010

UCSB Men's Water Polo: 2010 Season Preview

Sept. 4, 2010

The UC Santa Barbara men's water polo will officially open the 2010 season tomorrow, Sunday, Sept. 5 when the Gauchos take-on Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in a neutral site contest at Pepperdine. Before UCSB dives into its 2010 campaign, let's take a glimpse into what the season has in store for the Gauchos.

Since Wolf Wigo took the reigns of the UCSB men's water polo program in 2005, he has had the goal of taking the Gauchos to the NCAA Tournament. This season, the objective is no different.

"Our goals are to qualify for NCAA's and to win NCAA's and that is also the expectation," Wigo said. "We have a great team, we are strong at every position, we are well-balanced and we have enough depth. The preseason training is going well and everything is on-pace to accomplish those goals."

Even with all the pieces in place, the Gauchos will have to overcome several obstacles in their quest to play in the postseason. Those obstacles are the perennial national leaders Cal, Stanford, UCLA and USC, all of which compete in the same conference as the Gauchos: the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.

UCSB is not intimidated though. The Gauchos, who were ranked seventh nationally in the Collegiate Water Polo Association's Preseason Coaches Poll, are ready to take on the nation's top-four and show why they deserve to be considered among the most elite programs in the country.

"The same teams as always are strong, but none of them are so strong that it is intimidating," Wigo said. "No one on our team feels intimidated at all by any other team, as opposed to the last few years. Our players feel as if we have more experience, we are stronger, and we're ready to come out and beat a lot of top-ranked teams."

Wigo believes that UCSB now has more depth than during the 2009 campaign when they posted a 13-16 overall record and finished the season as the No. 7 ranked team.

"We filled in two positions that we were a little weak in last year: two-meter defense and the left-handed position," Wigo said. "Now the whole pool is covered with players that can shoot the ball, swim fast and play great defense."

Goalkeepers
This season UCSB will have four goalkeepers on the roster who have a combined six years of collegiate experience under their belts.

Fraser Bunn will return for his senior season after starting 23 games for the Gauchos in 2009. The native of Melbourne, Australia led the MPSF with his 9.7 saves per game last year. Meanwhile, sophomore Myles Christian also returns. In his first season on the active roster, he averaged 9.6 saves across the 8.75 games he played.

"Fraser and Myles have both been playing great and they're top goalies that are ready to fight for the starting position, but right now they are going to be splitting time."

Coming off a redshirt year is freshman Jay Lovero, who was a First Team All-American at Foothill High School. According to Wigo, "Jay can come in at any time and not miss a beat for us."

Rounding out the goalkeeping group is Russell Russo LeVasseur, who is now in his senior season with the Gauchos.

Two Meters
The Gauchos will also have a talented foursome at the center of their offense with four returning players ready to play at two-meters during the 2010 campaign.

Junior Noah Smith was third on the squad with his 35 goals scored and ranked 25th in the MPSF with an average of 1.30 goals per game in 2009. He had 10 multiple-goal contests and led the team with 54 earned penalties or ejections.

"Noah is very dominant player," Wigo said. "He does a great job of scoring the ball and holding a presence at two-meters."

Senior Joe Plume, who recently exhausted his eligibility with the UCSB swim team, returns for his third season with the water polo program. In 2009, he was fourth on the team for assists (8) and drew 12 penalties or ejections.

"Joe is more of a counter-player," said Wigo. "He provides us with great defense and a lot of team speed. We will never get beat on the counter attack when he is in two-meters."

Sophomore Dylan Baliani and senior Brian Bishop both played as two-meter guards last year and will both be making the transition to two-meter offense.

Wigo describes Baliani, who played in 21 games as a true freshman in 2009, as, "a big, strong, physical player."

Bishop is now in his fifth season with the Gauchos (he redshirted his freshman season) and has 89 games under his belt.

"We have four strong centers that can rotate, sub for each other and always be fresh," Wigo said of the group.

Two-Meter Defense
On the other end of the pool, UCSB will rely on freshmen Scott Bishop and Lazar Komindinic and junior Sam Evans to defend two-meters.

Bishop, who is the younger brother of Brian, is coming off of a redshirt year. An Honorable Mention All-American at Mountain View High School, Wigo said the younger Bishop is, "playing great, very fast and has a good ability to score the ball."

Komindinic comes to UCSB from Nis, Serbia and is a member of the Serbian Junior National Team.

"He is a great defender and a very big threat on the offensive end," Wigo said.

Rounding out the group is Sam Evans, who is returning for his junior year with the Gauchos. Evans, who is the tallest player on the team measuring 6-7, played in over 20 games for UCSB in 2009.

"Sam is a very tall player, he has a lot of experience and he is very effective on defense and on the power play," Wigo said.

Drivers
With a bevy of talent in every position, the Gauchos are arguably the deepest on the perimeter. Once again, expected to pace UCSB offensively will be All-Americans Milos Golic and Zsombor Vincze.

Golic is a three-time All-American and earned First Team honors the past two years. He has also been the most prolific scorer in the MPSF during the last two seasons and in 2009, he averaged 2.75 goals per game. Now in his senior year, Golic has the opportunity to become just the fourth four-time All-American in UCSB history and is just 32 goals away from tying Larry Mouchwar's school record (244).

"His stats speak for themselves," Wigo said of Golic. "He is a real threat. Every team has to know where he is at every moment and they have to mark him. If they don't, he scores, if they do, that opens up something for someone else."

Vincze, an Honorable Mention All-American in 2009, will also be returning for his senior year at UCSB. He ranked sixth in the MPSF last year with his 1.81 goals per game average and has posted 123 goals for the Gauchos during his career.

"Zsombor is a tremendous all-around player," Wigo said. "He is very physical, can play every position, has great intensity, great speed and hopefully he is going to have a tremendous year."

The Gauchos' sixth-leading scorer in 2009, Brian Shoemaker, returns for his sophomore campaign. He led all newcomers last year with his 17 goals and was third on the team after drawing 43 penalties or ejections.

"Brian is another player that can play all the positions in the pool very well," Wigo said. "He can go in and post-up if one of our centers isn't down the pool quick enough or can bring a mismatch in. He is very capable of shooting from the perimeter or from the post on a six-on-five."

Another sophomore that should be in the mix is Evan Dellinger, who played in 20 games as a true freshman and scored six goals.

"Evan is a tremendous player who has a great feel for the game," Wigo said. "He will be working to give Milos and Zsombor some breaks. We don't lose too much when he is in there; he is a really gifted shooter and physical player."

Junior Ryen Flint will add more experience to the perimeter and is comfortable playing on both the left and right sides of the pool. He scored six goals in 2009 for the Gauchos.

"Ryen is a great driver," Wigo said. "He is a gifted passer and has a great hitch on his shot that gives goalkeepers on the opposing teams a big problem."

Rounding out the list of returning drivers are Geng Wang and Brent McCunney.

"Geng is a tireless worker and he has improved tremendously since he has been on the team," Wigo said. "He is very fast and he can wear down the opponents and can give us quality minutes. Brent is similar to Geng and he has a very tricky shot that teams haven't seen before. He's pretty deadly."

Freshmen Matt Gronow and Paddy Kelleher are also expected to make an impact in their first season on the active roster after redshirting the 2009 season.

Gronow is a left-handed player out of Melbourne, Australia with a tremendous amount of international experience. According to Wigo, "He can play a lot of minutes, he is fast and has great endurance. Look for him to play a lot this year. He will help us provide a real threat on the right side of the pool."

Kelleher was a two-time All-American and the 2008 CIF-South Section Division V Player of the Year at Los Osos High School.

"He has a cannon of an arm and is one of the best shooters on the team," Wigo said. "He will probably see limited playing time this year, but when he is in, he is always a threat to score the ball."

Rounding out the roster for the 2010 season will be freshmen Tom Cole (Los Gatos, Calif./Saint Francis HS), Cooper Smith (Roseville, Calif./Woodcreek HS) and Matt Puig (Murrieta, Calif./Murrieta HS).

After Sunday's season opener, the Gauchos will return to Campus Pool on Saturday, Sept. 11 to host UC San Diego in a non-conference game at noon.

Season tickets for the 2010 soccer season are now available. All season ticket packages include tickets for the 2010 Men's College Cup, which is being hosted by UCSB on Dec. 10-12 at Meredith Field at Harder Stadium. Individual season tickets start at just $75 and include one ticket to all home men and women's regular season games and one 2010 Men's College Cup all-session ticket. UCSB staff and faculty can purchase their season tickets for a reduced rate of $50.

To purchase your tickets for the 2010 soccer season or for more information, please call (805) 893-UCSB, visit the Ticket Office located inside the Intercollegiate Athletics building on campus or buy online by clicking here.

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