The #14 UCSB women’s water polo team pushed its winning streak to five after sweeping its first two conference games of the season over the weekend, beating both #18 Pacific and UC Davis by the same 9-5 margin.
[media-credit id=20238 align=”alignright” width=”166″][/media-credit]“It was a huge weekend for us,” Head Coach Wolf Wigo said. “It gave us the wins and confidence. Hopefully we can get one of those top two seeds in the [Big West Tournament]. That will make it a lot easier on us.”
Senior utility Claire Buchanan opened Sunday’s game against the Aggies with her fourth goal of the weekend, and the Gauchos entered the second quarter with a 5-1 lead. In the second, the Aggies switched to a press defense, allowing them to make a small comeback and bring the score at the end of the half to 6-3 in Santa Barbara’s favor. The lone Gaucho goal came from senior utility Kathryn Nelson, who scored her team-leading 48th goal of the season.
“We just had to adjust to the new defense that [Davis] ran and we did it fine,” Nelson said. “They scored a couple goals but we were able to get our lead back.”
The teams played to a stalemate in the third quarter, each team scoring just one goal to maintain the three-goal difference. The Gaucho defense was once again bolstered by the strong play of sophomore goalie Ruth Milne, who recorded 11 saves in the game in addition to the 12 she notched Saturday.
“[Milne] is our best bet at winning games,” senior guard Kathryn Nelson said. “She makes amazing saves throughout the games and she’s been playing great all season.”
UCD scored once more to open the fourth quarter, but that was the last time they found the net in the game. Sophomore utilities Rachel Nelson and Bryce Winton, who scored on an open net after UCD removed their goalie, became the eighth and ninth Gauchos to score as UCSB rolled to a 9-5 win.
UCSB faced off against Pacific Saturday for the first time since they played each other in the third-place game of last year’s Big West Tournament, in which the Tigers handed the Gauchos a 7-5 loss.
“We were focusing on this new game and [Pacific’s] new players, but I think maybe in the back of our minds there was a memory of that game and how they knocked us out of the tournament,” senior utility Christie Clark said.
The first quarter was all UCSB. The Gauchos took an early lead thanks to a goal from Nelson and two saves that Milne managed to deflect with her fingertips. With four minutes left in the period, the Tigers scored off a penalty shot. But with three minutes left the Gauchos netted three more shots, two by senior utility Claire Buchanan, in less than a minute and a half to end the quarter with a 4-1 lead.
“[Ruth] makes [the other team] feel like they can’t get the ball in the cage,” Wigo said. “As a team they lose confidence and we can play off that.”
The second quarter saw UCSB switch to an aggressive man-to-man defense, which held Pacific scoreless throughout the quarter and allowed the Gauchos to add to their lead with Nelson’s second goal of the game.
“We just used the weaknesses of the other team to our advantage,” Nelson said.
Pacific scored twice to open the third quarter, but UCSB responded with three goals, including Buchanan’s third. In the fourth quarter, Pacific made one last effort at a comeback, holding UCSB to one goal while scoring two of their own. But with tempers flaring on both sides and both coaches being issued yellow cards, the Gauchos’ defense clamped down, holding for the 9-5 win.
“When a team’s trying to get back in the game they play very hard and very physically,” Wigo said. “Players and coaches get frustrated and sometimes argue with the refs to get them to clean up the game.”
Wigo added, “We had our key players make some big shots and then some players came off the bench and also made some big shots. They all played really well and it’s a really good feeling coming out of this weekend.”
The Gauchos go on the road for their final four games of the regular season, three of which will be in conference. UCSB travels to Northridge on April 9 to face off against both the Matadors at 12 p.m. and Cal Baptist at 2:30 p.m.