The men’s water polo team did a 180 last weekend. Going into their tournament with a 1-3 record, the Slugs went 3-1 to turn their season around, leading them to the league championship.
“We’ve steadily been making progress over the course of this year, and have just started to prove we can compete with any team in our league,” coach Blair MacDougall said.
This weekend, the Slugs will face off at home with UC Davis in the first round of the Sierra Pacific Division Championship. With a win, UC Santa Cruz would have to beat UC Berkeley, then the winner of Chico State and Cal Maritime to win the league. With a loss, they are out of the tournament. In three seasons as a club team, the Slugs have failed to capture the coveted league champion title.
Based off of their 4-4 overall record, the Slugs earned a No. 5 ranking in the league seeding. Last weekend’s tournament was a turning point for the Slugs, MacDougall said, leading to a 3-1 boost to their record. UCSC beat San Jose State (SJSU), Stanford and Fresno State, only losing to Cal Maritime, who recently have been the team’s biggest competition in the league.
“[Last weekend] our defense finally came together as a cohesive unit and some of our new additions to the team this year really proved themselves to be highly competent water polo players,” MacDougall said.
Co-captain Ethan Pascual said the 11-9 win over SJSU was a highlight of the tournament, sparking a three game win streak for the team. Pascual notes the combination of “veterans on the team supported by a cast of talented freshman” acted as a cohesive unit. He said this teamwork is a good sign going into league championships.
The winner of the Sierra Pacific League will qualify for the Collegiate Water Polo Association Division I Club Nationals at San Diego State, which both MacDougall and Pascual have as an ultimate goal.
“I believe this year we have a better chance of [making it to nationals] than we have had in a few years,” MacDougall said. “I’m confident my guys are talented enough and have enough fire to prove we can beat anyone during this week’s playoffs.”
Other goals include winning the Division III national championship, which the Slugs will attend in Lancaster, Penn. Nov. 3-4. MacDougall said the team won every time they attended the tournament.
MacDougall hopes to draw a large crowd at the upcoming home tournament this weekend and gain more support for the self-sustaining team. As a UCSC alumnus, MacDougall was part of the men’s water polo team before the program moved down to a club team from an NCAA one in 2009. MacDougall, along with the three other coaches, were some of the last water polo players recruited to UCSC for water polo.
“The men’s water polo team is an excellent group of guys both athletically and personally,” MacDougall said. “It is a great experience to remain a part of this team after graduating. The players deserve the support of the UCSC students and staff this weekend when we set out on our goal to win the league championship at home.”
UCSC men’s water polo was ranked No. 1 in NCAA Division III in 2006, despite its removal as a NCAA team. The team’s success, however, has not wavered, whether as a NCAA Division III team or a club Division III team.