The UCSB women’s water polo team will play its final two home games of the regular season this weekend, opening conference play against Pacific on Saturday and UC Davis on Sunday. The team will then go on the road for four more games before returning home to host the Big West Tournament.
[media-credit id=20238 align=”alignleft” width=”250″][/media-credit]“Our focus has always been the tournament because that’s what’s important and that’s what gets us to the NCAAs,” senior utility Christie Clark said. “But the conference games dictate where we are seeded in the tournament and how hard it is.”
Over the last few weeks, the #14 Gauchos have improved their record to an impressive 17-8 after going 7-1 since losing three of four games at the end of February. Over those eight games, the Gauchos have given up double digit goals only once, in an 18-11 win over La Verne on March 4. In comparison, Santa Barbara scored under 10 goals just twice over that same period.
“Some of it is the competition,” Head Coach Wolf Wigo said. “We have a slightly easier schedule [at this point in the season]. We’re really just gearing up for conference.”
UCSB has won five in a row. Behind senior utility Claire Buchanan’s five goals, the Gauchos beat Brown 12-5 at Campus Pool on Tuesday. They won both matches of their doubleheader against Iona and Cal State San Bernardino on March 20 and cruised past Bucknell 10-7 on March 19.
“[We’re scoring well because] we’re making our shots on the outside and that opens up the inside,” Wigo said.
The Gauchos’ dominance began on March 4 with the Cal Lutheran Mini tournament in Thousand Oaks. They jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first five minutes against St. Francis in its first game on their way to a 14-6 win. Later that same day, Wigo took the reins off his offense as 10 different Gauchos scored in the 18-11 win over La Verne. Senior center Kristin Kulakowski had five goals in that game and eight on the day to lead the Gaucho offense.
“Shes been really doing an excellent job on offense,” Wigo said.
UCSB then had an eight-day break before travelling to Los Angeles for two games on the March 12. The first resulted in an 8-3 loss to Loyola Marymount, but the Gauchos rebounded with an 8-5 win over Occidental.
Over their last eight games the Gauchos have outscored their opponents 97-54. In five of those eight games, they scored a goal before their opponents did.
Santa Barbara will look to continue that dominance first against #18 Pacific, the 2010 regular season Big West co-champions. They will look primarily to Kathryn Nelson, who leads the team in both goals (45) and field blocks (23) and is second on the team in steals (70). Their goalkeeper, sophomore Ruth Milne, has started every game for the Gauchos this season and averages 10.4 saves per game. However, Coach Wigo will need the rest of his team to continue making contributions as they have been doing if the wins are to keep coming.
“[A player having a big game] is not really something you can control,” Wigo said. “Balanced scoring is more of a big deal. If a player’s hot they’re hot.”
Last season, the Gauchos went 3-2 in conference and eventually were defeated by Pacific in the third place game of the Big West Tournament.
“All the teams [in the conference] are really even,” Wigo said, “We will have an advantage in the tournament because we’re hosting and we want to do as well as possible in the conference games. But it’s wide open.”
The match against Pacific is set to start at 12 p.m. on Saturday, and will be followed by a match against the alumni at 3 p.m. On Sunday, the Gauchos will take to the pool at 12 p.m. again to face #15 UC Davis in their final home game of the regular season.