UCSB has a pair of returning water polo All-Americans — Milos Golic, a first-team selection, and Zsombor Vincze, honorable mention — who could be poster boys for the NCAA ideal of the well-rounded student/athlete. That they both come from Eastern Europe may not be entirely a coincidence.
“During five years of war, it was not a happy country to grow up in,” said Golic, a native of Belgrade, Serbia. “I didn’t have everything I wanted all the time. We heard planes and bombs. It was not a pleasant environment.”
Vincze lived more peacefully but only 100 miles away in Szeged, Hungary. His parents, both teachers, instilled in him a love of learning. The concept of combining high-level athletic competition with a university education was foreign to him, as it was to Golic, but both have embraced it.
“Playing a sport gives me discipline,” Vincze said. “It is easy to be distracted at UCSB. It would be hard to get the motivation to study if I had time to waste.”
Golic and Vincze, both seniors majoring in business economics, have monopolized the highest academic honor in UCSB’s athletic department. After the 2007 and 2009 seasons, Vincze earned the Golden Eagle Ring Award as the Gaucho male athlete with the highest cumulative grade-point average. In 2008, when Vincze was sidelined by an injury, Golic was the Ring Award winner. Golic is the man to beat for the 2010 award next spring, because Vincze will be graduating in December.
“Neither of them spoke great English when they came here,” Gaucho men’s water polo coach Wolf Wigo said. “I was hoping they could get through their classes. In retrospect, it was the least of my worries. It took them one quarter to master the language.”
UCSB’s challenge in the pool is to compete for the championship of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF), a conference that has nine of the top 10 ranked teams in the nation. To that end, Wigo, a former captain of the U.S. Olympic team, has used his international connections to recruit outstanding junior players from Europe. They are less likely to be taken aback at UCSB’s ancient Campus Pool than are American high school stars. Another Serbian standout, Lazar Komadinic, is joining the Gauchos this year.
“We have all the pieces,” Wigo said. “This is the first year I can honestly say we have a chance to get to the NCAA tournament and win.” That means finishing in the top two of the MPSF, whose member schools have won all 41 NCAA titles — including UCSB in 1979.
Complementing the leading scorers Golic (77 goals last year) and Vincze (38 goals), UCSB has two players from the area, junior hole setter Noah Smith of Santa Maria and sophomore utility man Brian Shoemaker, who was MVP at Dos Pueblos High. Fraser Bunn and Myles Christian are returning goalkeepers.
“Team chemistry is the big issue,” Wigo said. “As long as we get everybody playing for each other, we can do great things.”
Golic agreed. “We will get to the NCAAs only if there is team unity,” he said. “It’s more heart than skill. It’s not just swimming better or shooting better. Everybody has to feel they belong to this team. If we live and breathe as one, then we can win.”
UCSB was ranked number seven on the Collegiate Water Polo Association coaches’ preseason poll and number six on the MPSF preseason poll. Cal is ranked number one, followed by UCLA, Stanford, USC, and UC Irvine. The Gauchos’ home opener will be Saturday, September 11, against 11th-ranked UC San Diego.
Dos Pueblos has a senior-studded lineup, including three players — Derek Shoemaker, Chase Racich, and Kevin Cappon — who were on the 2009 Youth National Team. The Chargers will face their toughest Channel League competition on September 30 (Ventura) and October 5 (at Santa Barbara). The S.B. Dons will host Orange County power Servite on September 17.
Water Polo Schedule
Key Home Matches: Sept. 26: UC Irvine, noon; Oct. 17: Stanford, noon; Nov. 14: UCLA, 1pm.
MPSF Championships: Nov. 26-28: at Stanford.