Water polo power Montenegro to play at UCSB

In the water polo world, the small European country of Montenegro is considered one of the big teams in the sport.

Local water polo fans will get a rare opportunity to see the Montenegro national squad play as it visits UCSB on Monday for an exhibition game against the Gauchos.

The event is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Campus Pool. There is no admission charge but donations will be accepted to help offset the cost of hosting the Montenegro team.

Montenegro is currently on a training trip through Southern California to prepare for the upcoming FINA World League Super Final at the end of July and the European Championships in late August. It is the defending champion in both competitions.

The team, currently ranked ninth in the world, has three matches set up against the No. 4 U.S. national team. The Americans won a 7-6 thriller on Saturday at Cal Lutheran. The other games are July 2 at Newport Harbor High and July 4 at the U.S. Training Center in Los Alamitos.

“They’re playing three games against the U.S. Olympic team and they’re playing a game against us and those are the only games they’re playing, so we’re in pretty good company,” UCSB coach Wolf Wigo said. “It’s a great opportunity. You know they’re probably going to beat us pretty badly, but it will be a good experience for our players.”

The Santa Barbara visit was arranged with the help of local city officials and a delegation from the Montenegro coastal town of Kotor, which is a sister city of Santa Barbara’s.

“Water polo is popular in Santa Barbara and it’s very popular in Montenegro, so that’s part of the cultural exchange,” Wigo said. “We sent five players over there last year to train and we knew their national team would be coming, so it’s very fortunate for us.”

Wigo, a three-time U.S. Olympian and former team captain, is expected to put on his Speedos and cap and jump in the pool to help his team against a strong Montenegro squad.

The Gaucho coach is also adding his two younger brothers, Drac and Janson, four-time All-Americans at Stanford, to bolster the squad.

Wigo said getting a team like Montenegro to play here is a “amazing. People will be able to see the highest level of water polo.

“It’s great,” he continued. “I think we’ll have a good crowd. The water polo community is pretty excited about it.”

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