No. 2 Gauchos Dominate No. 1 Stanford to Continue Stellar Start

Nathan Puentes scored three goals in the fourth quarter to get the No. 2 Gauchos past No. 1 Stanford on Friday afternoon. (Photo by Jeff Liang)
Nathan Puentes scored three goals in the fourth quarter to get the No. 2 Gauchos past No. 1 Stanford on Friday afternoon. (Photo by Jeff Liang)

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PALO ALTO, Calif. – No other team has racked up as many wins over Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA) top four teams as the UC Santa Barbara men's water polo team this early in the season, and the Gauchos added yet another to their resume with their 15-10 takedown of No. 1 Stanford at the Avery Aquatic Center on Friday afternoon.

It was the Gauchos' second win over an opponent ranked No. 1 in the weekly CWPA poll in a week, and the second time the Gauchos achieved the feat in five games.

Similar to the match that the Gauchos played last weekend against then-No. 1 USC, the Gauchos set the tone by scoring early and often.

Just a minute and three seconds into the match, senior utility Ivan Gvozdanovic assisted junior attacker Leo Yuno as the Gauchos drew first blood.

The Gauchos took a 2-0 lead with 4:12 left in the first quarter as it was Yuno's turn to assist junior attacker Cole Brosnan.

Stanford got one back with 2:48 to go in the opening period, as Tyler Abramson's power play goal cut the early Gaucho lead to 2-1, but sophomore driver Ryan Brosnan's response opened a 4-1 run that would see the Gauchos take a 6-2 lead into halftime.

"It was almost the same exact thing as the USC game. We started off really well in our first two defensive possessions. The defense was on, [redshirt freshman goalkeeper] Danny Roland was on, and we were motivated. Stanford struggled in their frontcourt early, so we were able to go up 5-1 and we had a lot of confidence. We subbed right away, whereas Stanford had to keep their top line in, and we wore them down with our depth," said UCSB head coach Wolf Wigo of the team's start to the match.

Urgency kicked in for the Cardinal in the third quarter as they looked to kickstart their comeback bid, outscoring the Gauchos 5-3 to close the gap to a two-point lead for the visitors, 9-7.

In the fourth quarter, UCSB would take care of business.

Sophomore driver Nathan Puentes took advantage of a ball from senior driver Tommy Fellner to strike first for the Gauchos in the fourth quarter and put UCSB up 10-7, but Bennett Williams got Stanford back within two at the 6:44 mark.

From then on, it was all Gauchos.

Goals from Gvozdanovic and Puentes upped the UCSB advantage to 12-8, giving the Gauchos their largest lead of the day at the time.

At 3:25, Stanford took a timeout and subsequently converted on a penalty shot to cut the UCSB lead back down to three.

Fellner scored on the powerplay at 2:26 to regain the four-goal lead before Stanford scored two seconds later to try to swing momentum back on their side, making it 13-10 to UCSB.

Puentes slammed the door shut on the Cardinal by completing his fourth quarter hat trick with just over a minute left in the match.

Redshirt freshman driver Sean Rosenberg scored the final goal of the matchup with 11 seconds left as the Gauchos were declared 15-10 victors.

Yuno had a monster day for UCSB, scoring four goals and tacking on two assists. Puentes had a hat trick of his own as well as a pair of assists. Senior attacker Jacob Halle earned a goal and assisted on four others in the match.

Roland made eight saves in the affair, with one steal and an assist.

"We controlled the game and we played extremely well, but that was [just one game] today. Now, every team will be twice as motivated when they play us. We just need to keep doing the right things, working hard, and hopefully good things will come," Wigo remarked of the match.

The result comes just a day after UCSB set a new record for best start to a season in program history with the Gauchos' win over Ottawa, and defeated No. 6 Pepperdine in an exhilarating 16-15 overtime match at Campus Pool.

After the match against Pepperdine, Wigo said the intensity of the match would help the team stay in rhythm. Following the Stanford game, the veteran head coach doubled down on that statement.

"It made a huge difference. I think if we had beaten Pepperdine easily, our guys would have relaxed a bit. [Yesterday] was a really big scare for us, but that meant our guys were so focused today and really wanted to win this game. We've been well-prepared for these types of games with all the battles we've been through this season," Wigo added.

The win represented the Gauchos' first win over Stanford since 2016, and only the 11th win against the Cardinal in 91 matches all-time.

"We talked before the game about how we came up here a few years ago and beat them. We were getting some texts from our alumni reminding us that we could do it. It was a well-deserved victory."

The Gauchos make a stop at Fresno Pacific tomorrow on their way home, taking on the Sunbirds at 3:30 p.m. Live stats will be available and can be accessed on the men's water polo schedule page.

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