After struggling for much of the first month of the season, the No. 15 UCSB women’s water polo team has officially found its form.
With just five total Big West games over the remainder of the season, Santa Barbara will be home for its first conference home game this Saturday when it plays No. 9 Hawaii.
The Gauchos have improved to an overall record of 10-11 and 1-0 in the Big West thanks to their current five-game winning streak, including a 7-4 victory over No. 16 UC Davis last weekend. The Rainbow Wahine are currently on a three-game losing streak, which has dropped them to 13-8 overall and 1-1 in conference play.
“To start off Big West with a win was really exciting for our team,” sophomore utility Holly Smith said. “We had a rough week with the passing of our fellow water polo Gaucho Nick Johnson, so we all came together for this game and it was the best that we all worked together so far this season.”
The Gauchos were excellent defensively in the win over Davis, holding the Aggies to just four goals, the lowest amount that the Gauchos have allowed any ranked opponent this year.
“Our defense basically shut down any kind of offense they tried to run and we were all really on the same page,” Smith said. “The most important thing for us was the fact that we were all able to play as a team. We were all really confident so hopefully we will continue to win against Hawaii on Saturday.”
When Hawaii comes to town, it will bring with it one of the most outstanding offensive duos in the country in sophomore attacker Paula Chillida Esforzado and senior utility Danielle Lewis. Esforzado leads her team both in goals (38) and assists (29) in just 19 games while Lewis has scored 37 goals on a team-high 49.3 shooting percentage.
“We’re really hoping to play very similar to what we did last weekend,” sophomore goalkeeper Mackenzie Brokaw said. “We’re a super young team and we were kind of scattered at the beginning of the year but now we’re all developing and knowing each other’s strengths so we can work together really well. We’re excited.”
UCSB’s defense has carried them in the last month. After allowing over 9.1 goals per game through their first 16 games, the Gauchos have decreased that number down to just 4.6 per game in their last five wins.
“We want to play exactly how we played against Davis. That was our best game by far and if we continue to play like that then we shouldn’t have a problem beating Hawaii,” Smith said. “Each game we play we hit another milestone, and every game we get a little bit better. We’re just continuing to progress and that’s really exciting to be able to watch the team change and see that all the hard work is paying off.”
The Gauchos take on Hawaii this Saturday at noon at Campus Pool.
A version of this article appeared on page 9 of April 3rd’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Peter Vandenbelt of the Daily Nexus.