With the beginning of Big West play still nearly a month away, the No. 18 UCSB women’s water polo team travels to Thousand Oaks for the Cal Lutheran Tournament this weekend in what will be its final preseason tournament of the year. The Gauchos are scheduled to play No. 16 Michigan and Fresno Pacific on Friday, followed by games against Chapman and Villanova early Saturday.
“We’re doing really good for where we’re at,” junior utility Lauren Martin said. “We’re a very young team and with each tournament you can tell how much we’re improving. We still have a lot of games until Big West for us to continue to improve.”
This weekend will likely be Santa Barbara’s best chance yet to turn its 5-10 start to the season around with Michigan being its only ranked opponent in the tournament.
So far this season the Gauchos are an undefeated 3-0 against unranked teams and just 2-10 against teams in the top 20.
“We’re [working] on our 6-on-5 a lot,” Martin said. “We’re definitely going to improve on those and we need to continue to communicate. That’s the key because you don’t know what other players are thinking. We just need to be very verbal and tell each other what we’re doing on each play.”
The Wolverines have gotten off to a disappointing start to the year themselves at 3-10, but, like UCSB, they have had an extremely difficult schedule thus far.
Leading the way for Michigan is senior attacker Kelsey Nolan with a team-high 20 goals. The Gauchos will also be on the lookout for sophomore driver Presley Pender, who leads the Wolverines with 18 assists while also scoring 10 goals of her own.
Chapman University comes in undefeated at 2-0 and has been impressive defensively giving up just one goal in each of its opening two games. Junior attacker Emily Holmquist has three goals and five assists to lead her team this early in the season.
For the Gauchos, the focus offensively should be centered around sophomore utility Jessie Porter. Last weekend, Porter scored a season-high seven goals against No. 17 UC Davis, with three of them coming in the fourth quarter of what ended up being a close 11-9 victory.
The remaining matches against Fresno Pacific and Villanova should prove to be favorable for a young UCSB team trying to find a rhythm.
Fresno Pacific comes in with a 2-8 record. The Sunbirds have given up an average of 12.7 goals per game while only scoring 4.7 goals per game. In their only three matchups against ranked teams this year, they conceded an astounding 76 goals.
In their final game of the weekend, the Gauchos will take on a Villanova team that has yet to win a game this season. At 0-8, the Wildcats enter this weekend’s tournament hungry for a victory after losing several close games last weekend.
“Although they’re not ranked as high, we’re not going into it looking at it like that,” Martin said. “These are opportunities. We’re just going into it thinking that these are all games that we should win and we’re just going to have a mindset to win it.”
UCSB’s first game against Michigan will be played on Friday at 10:30 a.m. in the Samuelson Aquatics Center.
This article is an online exclusive and did not appear in the print edition of The Daily Nexus.
Photo by Peter Vandenbelt of The Daily Nexus.