After a week long hiatus that followed three road wins to open the season, the UCSB women’s water polo team, ranked 12th in the nation, will return home to play six games spanning Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The latter two days comprise the UCSB winter invite, but before the Gauchos even begin to think about that, they first need to get through Frday, when they will play the University of Michigan and Concordia University in a double header.
“Definitely Friday we’re focusing a bit more on Michigan,” Head Coach Wolf Wigo said. “But if you take games for granted you could suffer an embarrassing loss.”
Though UCSB has opened the season undefeated, the going has not been easy with three road games in a row, and will not get any easier this weekend. However, according to Coach Wigo, that is exactly how the Gauchos want it.
“That’s how we had it last year,” Wigo said. “We just want to get our team as ready as possible and get experience for the end of the season when things really matter.”
Yet whether or not the Gauchos are used to tough schedules, double headers are never easy, and the difficulty extends beyond the physical challenges.
“[It’s tougher] mentally,” senior utility Christie Clark said. “Physically you always get tired, there’s always that point of exhaustion. It’s just about controlling that with your mind and pushing yourself into the next game.”
Concordia’s season will begin at Santa Barbara. Their first game will be against Michigan a few hours before they play UCSB. Concordia is coming off the first winning season in program history, and the confidence that comes with that will allow them to test UCSB’s strength.
“Concordia is just a well rounded team,” Wigo said.
Michigan will present the first real challenge for the Gauchos in the young season. At 2-2, the Wolverines, ranked 8th in the nation, bring several advantages into the match. They have the most wins in the modern era, with an overall program record of 283-115-1, and senior Allison Mantel is only 11 goals from becoming the third Wolverine to reach 300 goals.
“Michigan has some really good players,” Wigo said. “They’re a strong team and they have a lot of speed.”
However, UCSB has a few advantages of its own. In the seven games in which Santa Barbara and Michigan have met, the Gauchos have emerged victorious all seven times. UCSB is also coming off three strong road wins, and has talented veteran leadership.
“I’d attribute [our success] to the senior and captain leadership,” Clark said. “But also so far everyone’s getting a lot of playing time and everyone’s doing what they’re supposed to do.”
The Gauchos to watch for this weekend are freshman utility Molly Hafferkamp, who has come on strong in her first season and is tied for the lead on the team with seven goals, and senior guard Kathryn Nelson, who is one of UCSB’s best defenders and has also scored seven goals, and was named as last week’s UCSBgauchos.com Gaucho of the Week.
“She’s improved everything,” Wigo said. “She’s one of our strongest players. This is what we expected of her.”
UCSB will play Michigan first, as that game is set to start at 11 a.m., and will then play Concordia at 3:30 p.m. The games will be held at Campus Pool.