The No. 16 UCSB women’s water polo team split their final two games of the regular season over the weekend, holding off a late surge to beat CSU Long Beach 8-7 Saturday before losing 11-5 to No. 10 UC Irvine on Sunday. Irvine took the Big West regular season title with an undefeated record in conference. The Gauchos finished the season with a 20-11 overall record and a 4-2 conference record.
[media-credit id=20238 align=”alignright” width=”250″][/media-credit]“We had a good season,” Head Coach Wolf Wigo said. “We had a winning record in conference, and all the teams in conference are ranked in the top 20.”
When the starting whistle blew on Saturday, Santa Barbara shot out to an early 4-0 lead. They outscored the 49ers 3-0 in the first quarter with goals from sophomore attacker Shelby Haroldson, senior utility Claire Buchanan and senior guard Kathryn Nelson. The fourth goal was scored by sophomore utility Rachel Nelson four seconds into the second quarter.
“We were in control the whole game,” Wigo said. “We made some good stops and stopped a six on five.”
After that, however, the momentum began to shift. Long Beach scored back-to-back goals to cut the Gaucho lead in half. Kathryn Nelson scored once more to make the score 5-2 at the half, but in the third quarter CSULB came out and scored two more goals back-to-back. The Gauchos would have gone into the fourth quarter up by just one goal if Haroldson had not scored her second goal just before time ran out.
That goal would turn out to be the difference. The 49er comeback continued into the fourth quarter as they brought the difference back down to one when play resumed. However, Buchanan, who ended the season on a nine-game scoring streak, scored back-to-back goals to put the game out of reach. Long Beach’s final two goals would not be enough, and the Gauchos escaped with an 8-7 win.
“We just had to protect the ball and run the clock down and just basically not make any stupid decisions,” senior utility Christie Clark said. “We made good passes and did whatever the coaches said.”
The next day, the Gauchos traveled to Irvine to face the Anteaters, and after a close first half UCI came out and dominated Santa Barbara to take an 11-5 win. The Gauchos found themselves down 5-2 after the first quarter but were able to silence Irvine’s offense in the second as they cut their deficit down to one goal. In the second half, however, things were very different. Irvine held UCSB scoreless as they increased their lead by five. UCSB mustered one final goal in the fourth, but even if the Anteaters had not responded with their 11th goal it would not have been enough for Santa Barbara to avoid defeat.
“We took a lot more shots [in the second half], but they weren’t going in,” Nelson said. “It was just bad luck. We can play a lot better than that and we will. Hopefully we see them in the finals and we kick their asses.”
The Gauchos will have to put the loss behind them quickly, however, as the Big West tournament begins in two weeks. After finishing with a 4-2 conference record, UCSB will receive the three seed and will face the sixth seed, which will either be CSU Long Beach or UC Davis.
UCSB will host the first match of the tournament, which is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Friday, April 29 .