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The No. 13 UCSB women’s water polo team will head to Matador Pool this Friday to take on No. 14 Cal State Northridge in the final game of its regular season. With both teams currently tied for the No. 5 seed in the Big West standings, the Gauchos will play with their conference ranking on the line.
“This is a pretty pivotal game for us,” Head Coach Cathy Neushul said. “If we win this game, we’re in a pretty good position to advance through the Big West Tournament.”
While home field advantage is not typically associated with water polo, the smaller proportions of Matador Pool create an additional challenge for Santa Barbara to make provisions for.
The venue features a 25-yard competition pool that plays smaller than most pools of the Big West teams. The unusual dimensions have been a test for most teams that play there, as CSUN holds a 6-1 record at home in spite of a 20-11 overall record.
“The pool is a little bit small, so it’s going to be a very physical game for us,” Neushul said. “You will see a lot of challenges to just shoot the ball in.”
Another obstacle for the Gauchos will be Lindsy Nelson, CSUN’s junior attacker and water polo standout. Nelson leads the Matador attack with 63 goals and 50 assists and has a notable presence defensively with 38 steals and 21 field blocks.
UCSB will furthermore have to keep an eye on sophomore defender Kelcie Ferreira, who leads Northridge with 73 steals and 37 field blocks.
“Historically the games in this pool are a little bit lower scoring,” Neushul said. “Again, it will be a physical game and I think we’re going to be up to the challenge of that.”
As Santa Barbara will face Northridge for the first time this season, the game figures to be a significant final hurdle for the Gauchos in their quest for an NCAA Tournament bid.
With the implications of Friday’s match heavy for both teams, UCSB will have little reservations heading into the contest.
“We’re actually feeling pretty good going into this game,” Neushul said. “It’s kind of a do-or-die situation; we just see the end tournament as what really matters.”
With a win, the Gauchos would secure the fifth seed heading into next weekend’s Big West Championship. A loss would drop Santa Barbara to the sixth seed in the tournament.
“The four or five spot is where you really want to be in this tournament,” Neushul said. “This [game] is a pretty big one.”
UCSB will play its final match against Northridge at Matador Pool Friday at 4:00 p.m.
This article is an online exclusive and did not appear in the print edition of the Daily Nexus.