As another UCSB women’s water polo season comes to a close, many questions remain unanswered concerning a team that won its first seven games, but dropped 11 of its last 16 en route to a 10th place finish at the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament.

Nonetheless, the Gaucho coaching staff is as optimistic as ever. Both Head Coach Pam Tanase and Assistant Coach Kevin Ricks expressed their dismay about their record, but are quick to point out that many of their losses could have gone either way. Despite its record in the second half of the season, Santa Barbara made countless improvements down the stretch that will certainly pay dividends next year.

“Overall, I think it was a good season,” said Ricks. “Every year you have games where you wish you had come out with the victory, but it comes down to missed opportunities.”

With the recent demise of the athletics fee initiative, it is unlikely that the recruiting situation will improve for the Gauchos, unless Tanase can pull the proverbial rabbit out of her hat. With graduation exit UCSB’s top two all-time scorers Kelley Tiffany and Mary Blumberg. The future remains somewhat uncertain for a team that will likely have to rely on production from underclassmen next season.

UCSB seemingly maintained all the ingredients necessary to go far in the prestigious conference. A seasoned goalie, strong interior offense and defense, and aggressive outside shooters were the spices to this year’s cookbook. Yet UCSB finished the season with a .500 record and was continually plagued by its inability to match up effectively against the nation’s powerhouses like Stanford and UCLA.

One positive the Gauchos can glean from 2002 is that many of the younger players began to step up their play toward the end of the season. Two-meter defender Teressa Gorbett will continue to anchor the defense, and two-meter set Erin Lezak will be expected to fill the void left by the departure of Tiffany. Megan Ricks and Mica Bell also showed their ability to produce when it counts, and they will surely be indispensable next season.

As for the freshmen, driver Katy Kunkel is a star in the making, and utility Shawna Shipley really turned it on during the second half of the season. At goalie, UCSB needs all the help it can get, as outgoing senior Yvonne Conrad finished as UCSB’s all-time saves leader. The coaching staff is eager to get freshman Kristin McGlennon some quality minutes, as she is expected to take over for Conrad.

To the casual observer, the Gauchos’ season could have gone a lot smoother. Losing three times in one season to UC Davis would be cause for concern from any coaching staff in the MPSF. However, the future must be bright because Tanase and Ricks are both wearing shades.