This Saturday the No. 14 UCSB women’s water polo team (16-12 overall, 1-1 Big West) will host its final two home games of the 2012 season. After going 1-1 last weekend to open conference play, the Gauchos will face No. 1 Cal State Northridge (15-15 overall, 1-1 Big West) in the morning for their third conference match of the season. Later that evening they will play their final home game against Cal Baptist (17-7).
While every game is important, the matchup to watch this weekend will be the early game against Northridge. The Gauchos have already faced Northridge twice this season, beating them 9-6 on Jan. 28 and 10-8 on Feb. 12. However, those victories are in the past.
Both teams have matured since they last met, and the stakes were not as high in their previous matches. This time they will be playing for a conference win, and therefore better positioning in the Big West Championships. Both Northridge and Santa Barbara currently hold a 1-1 conference record, which has them tied for third place in the conference. Irvine holds first with a 2-0 record and Davis sits in second at 1-0.
The Gauchos have a very potent lineup with very few weak spots. Seven different players have tallied 20 or more goals this season, led by junior Bryce Winton’s 30. The secret to their success comes from doing the little things right, everything that leads up to the ball finding the back of the net, including getting and maintaining control of the ball and moving it around. Junior Shelby Haroldson is particularly adept in this area of the game, as she leads the team with 47 assists and 46 steals.
Though the match against Cal Baptist does not hold quite the weight that the early game does, it still counts toward UCSB’s overall record and is therefore still important, and at 17-7 on the season, Cal Baptists is clearly no pushover. In both of Saturday’s games, the Gauchos will, as always, rely on junior goalkeeper Ruth Milne to anchor the team and keep them in the games. Milne is averaging 12.2 saves per game this season, which is on pace to break her own school record of 12.0 saves per game, which she set last season.
The Gauchos will also honor their departing seniors on Saturday. Prior to the day’s first matchup against Northridge, UCSB will hold a small ceremony to honor seniors Elle Quane and Katie Zakula, who earned Academic All-Big West honors after the 2011 season.
After this weekend the Gauchos will hit the road for their final two games of the season, both conference matches, before heading to Davis for the Big West Championships. Saturday’s game against Northridge is set to start at 11:30 a.m. The Gauchos will face Cal Baptist at 5:30 p.m.