The UCSB women’s water polo team was unable to complete the Greek sweep last weekend in Southern California, as its victory Saturday over the unranked Athenas of Claremont McKenna was preceded by a loss to USC.
The Gauchos (14-14 overall, 3-6 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) were unable to dethrone the women of Troy, who now share the top rank with Stanford and UCLA. Santa Barbara was simply outmatched by a USC squad that has dominated the MPSF thus far, with one loss at the hands of UCLA.
The strength of teams like USC stems from the ability to jump on an opponent early and deny them a chance to stay in the game. After USC took a three-goal lead to open the contest, the No. 12 Gauchos were forced once again to play catch-up with another counterattacking team.
Unable to generate any consistent offensive attack, the Gauchos clawed their way to an 8-2 halftime deficit. USC was able to ride the coattails of its Russian sensation, utility Sofia Konoukh, for whom the Gauchos had no answer. Konoukh tallied five goals on the day, and her performance impressed the Gaucho coaching staff.
“She has a great outside shot, and we didn’t match up on her like we should have,” UCSB Head Coach Pam Tanase said.
UCSB would make a valiant effort in the third quarter, but the USC machine kept upping the ante. When the Gauchos intensified their counterattack defense, the Trojans started creating man-up opportunities out of their front court. If the Gauchos started crashing two-meters, the USC outside shots would fly. All in all, USC simply refused to lose, but happily settled with a 14-6 victory.
The Gauchos were not finished, however, and they would face Claremont only three hours after the loss to USC. This contest proved much more favorable for the Gauchos, who wrested control of the match from the Athenas immediately. Led by an outstanding five-goal performance by senior two-meter set Kelley Tiffany, UCSB was more than able to defeat the scrappy Athenas. Claremont was once led by Tanase, which made the victory all the more special for the current Gaucho coach.
“It was good for us because everyone got playing time, and as a team we were able to do what we wanted against them,” Tanase said.
Despite a third quarter scare that saw the Athenas cut the Gaucho lead to one, the UCSB women played aggressive, fundamentally sound waterpolo en route to a 9-6 win.
The Gauchos will attempt to work out some of their kinks against No. 16 Irvine this Friday on the road.