This time, it’s the women who are back in town.

The UCSB women’s water polo season is beginning and the team is ready to play… and win. Finishing strong last year with a #7 ranking, Santa Barbara is prepared for anything.

Returning into the 2005 season with two crucial components – sophomore two-meter defensive player Aimee Stachowski and junior goalkeeper Christy Medigovich – the Gauchos are enthusiastically looking forward to the upcoming season.

Stachowski, who plays at the national level, poses an enormous threat to other teams with her stark shooting abilities and quickness. In the 2004 season, Stachowski managed 22 goals for the Gauchos, while Medigovich held her ground and made 139 saves for the Gaucho defense.

Santa Barbara also has four returning seniors who will all play key roles in how successful the season will be.

“We’ll be stronger this year because we still have the core of our team,” Medigovich said. “I think we are really together because we all know each other’s tendencies.”

More than just an armful of returning seniors, the women’s water polo team also holds a pool-full of new freshman recruits.

“We have a big recruiting class,” Medigovich said. “They’ve all been doing well and learning quickly. With so much experience, they are keeping up just fine.”

Last year the UCSB women’s water polo team finished seventh in the MPSF tournament, having gone into it ranked #11, after trouncing Hawaii 11-7. Santa Barbara finished the season with a credible 20-17 record.

“Our main thing is to win all the games we should,” Medigovich said.

Although the Gauchos seem to have high expectations for their upcoming performances, it is not necessarily without justification. This year, the NCAA year-ending tournament has expanded the team selection to eight teams instead of the usual four. Santa Barbara will also have a greater chance of making it to the national championship tournament by simply maintaining last year’s #7 ranking.

“We have a clear shot to make it to the NCAA tournament and that’s really important to us,” Medigovich said. “For UCSB women’s water polo to be at that level again is really just amazing.”

The main focus for Santa Barbara is defensive skills and setting the game with a strong Gaucho presence.

“As a goalie I would, of course, like to work on our offense, but our main focus is our defense; it always is,” Medigovich said. “We are a very defensive team.”

Medigovich also mentioned that initial strength and a game-long intensity are two aspects that Santa Barbara is working on for the 2005 season.

Getting through tough teams will be a challenge. Long Beach, San Diego State, Cal and Stanford are all reported threats to Santa Barbara, as they have been to the Gauchos in previous years. However, as Medigovich stated, the core of the team is still intact and the Gauchos have lost no spirit in their drive.

The first Santa Barbara game will be held Jan. 29 at the Campus Pool.