In its last scheduled appearance at Campus Pool this season, the No. 16 UCSB women’s water polo team galvanized the home crowd as it upset conference rival and No. 6 San Diego State in dominant fashion, winning 8-5.
Santa Barbara became the first team ranked out of the top seven this season to hold the Aztecs to just five points. The win marks UCSB’s third consecutive victory as the Gauchos continue to snowball their momentum heading into the Big West Tournament.
With this win, the Gauchos stand at a 19-10 record overall and are currently on pace to hold the No. 5 seed in the upcoming Big West Tournament.
“This win was extremely important for us,” freshman utility Samantha Murphy said. “We came in as the underdogs and we had nothing to lose, but it was just awesome the way everyone came together, and all played like a unit.”
Murphy, who scored a game-high three goals with UCSB senior defender Kacey Creek, leads the team with 65 total goals as a first-year starter. Ruth Milne, senior and All-American goalkeeper for the Gauchos, accumulated 12 saves as part of a sparkling defensive performance against San Diego State.
“We stuck to the [game] plan and all of us came out to play and win today,” Milne said. “The defense was incredible.”
While the Gauchos opened the game with an early goal from Murphy, the team’s chemistry and alignment against the Aztec attack kept San Diego State off balance during the match.
“We kind of shut down their star player [Amber Pezzola], which was good,” senior attacker Shelby Haroldson said. “We made sure we switched in and out of sets so that they didn’t get any goals out of set.”
UCSB’s defensive efforts coupled with its capitalization on early scoring opportunities resulted in a 3-2 lead for the Gauchos at the end of the first period.
San Diego State tied the game at 3-3 with a goal from senior utility Alex Ford in the second period; however, Santa Barbara’s defense continued to stifle the Aztecs and would hold them to that lone goal at the 5-3 half.
“We knew the players that we had to watch and we took care of them,” Creek said. “We all just worked together as a team and everyone was communicating on defense.”
The Gauchos came out firing in the third period with three additional goals by Murphy, Creek and freshman attacker Bryn Hudson to pad their lead.
Santa Barbara continued to apply pressure on defense in the second half and restrained San Diego State to just two goals in the final periods. UCSB would notched its 10th home victory this season with the 8-5 final outcome.
“What [won] the game is the fact that we have incredible team chemistry and everyone was just working really well together,” Milne said. “I feel like after that win, everyone’s really pumped to finish our last league games and go to the tournament, maybe even win the Big West conference.”
Santa Barbara will finish its regular season on the road with three pivotal matches against No. 7 UC Irvine, No. 9 Long Beach State and No. 13 CSU Northridge.
UCSB will hit the road beginning Saturday, April 13 at Irvine’s Anteater Aquatics Complex.
This article is an online exclusive and did not appear in the print edition of the Daily Nexus.