The UCSB women’s water polo team was off to a running start in the 2002 season. The Gauchos soundly defeated a bevy of Midwest powers en route to a first-place finish at the Michigan Invitational two weeks ago. Junior guard Teressa Gorbett was named the MVP and several other Gauchos had strong performances.

Despite the strong start at the Michigan Invite, Santa Barbara struggled defending its home waters. The Gauchos hosted seven of the nation’s best teams in an eight-team tournament at Campus Pool. Gauchos can take solace in the fact that four losses came at the hands of three of the nation’s top five teams and the season is still very young.

Many members of the squad were upbeat when discussing their opening loss to USC, a perennial Division-I powerhouse. UCSB Head Coach Pam Tanase echoed these sentiments.

“It is the best we have ever played them, really,” she said. “We played very aggressive defense and stopped their counterattack early, which allowed us to stay in the game.”

Indeed, the Gauchos (8-4 overall) played the nation’s third-ranked team to a 2-2 tie in the first quarter. They were patient on offense and took high percentage shots; certainly a recipe for success against the Trojans. Yet a second-quarter lapse afforded USC a three-point lead and the Gauchos were forced to play catch-up. Their campaign fell short, as the Trojans won 10-7.

UCSB’s next opponent would be Davis, a team it had lost to only a day earlier. The Gauchos came out fired up, but inconsistent officiating and poor offensive decision-making in the second half allowed the Aggies to grasp the momentum and emerge from the defensive struggle victorious, 6-4.

Fatigue appeared to be a major factor in the Gauchos’ next game versus Stanford, their fourth contest in two days. UCSB was unable to match the firepower of the nation’s top-ranked team and lost 14-4.

Despite the tough losses, Santa Barbara would finish the tourney on a high note with a 5-1 victory over the University of Massachusetts. UCSB’s game plan is defense and it showed in this match. The Minutewomen were held to few shot attempts, and scored only once as a result of the Gauchos’ excellent transition defense.

Santa Barbara is in high spirits despite the losses and many players feel that these early lessons will translate into success later this season. Senior driver Mary Blumberg exuded this positive energy following the weekend.

“We had some mental lapses here and there, but we are definitely making progress as a team,” she said. “We are excited, and our chemistry is strong.”