The #9 UCSB women’s water polo team began its home schedule in an upsetting fashion with a loss to #18 Irvine on Saturday.

Playing in their first conference game of the season, the Gauchos (3-2 overall, 0-1 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) were able to rally from a 4-0 deficit in the first quarter to take the lead into the fourth, only to be outscored by the Anteaters (3-2 overall, 1-0 MPSF) 3-1 in the final period, resulting in a heartbreaking loss that came down to the final possession.

From the opening whistle, Irvine came out on fire, lighting up the UCSB defense for four goals in the first quarter. The Gauchos started to rally in the second, getting their first goal two minutes into the quarter from junior utility Jennifer D’Anna. D’Anna’s goal was followed by a goal from sophomore driver Dana Saign.

“We were all in shock; we didn’t expect to go down 4-0,” D’Anna said. “We just told each other that we needed to concentrate and step it up.”

The Gauchos stepped up their defensive intensity in the second, holding Irvine to just one goal in the period. UCSB followed up the lone Anteater goal with another set of back-to-back goals, this time coming from D’Anna and junior driver Annie Kiening, sending Santa Barbara into halftime trailing by just one goal at 4-5.

UCSB continued its relentless attack in the third quarter, tying the game on Kiening’s second goal of the game with three minutes remaining in the period. Senior defender Mica Bell broke the 5-5 tie with the go-ahead goal for the Gauchos at the 2:35 mark. Irvine had no answer for UCSB’s defense, going scoreless in the quarter and trailing 5-6 going into the fourth.

“We stepped it up to the level that we should have been at all four quarters,” Head Coach Danielle Altman said. “We definitely made some adjustments as far as our defensive intensity.”

The Gauchos looked to be in total control of the game as the fourth quarter got underway, with senior defender Katy Kunkel giving UCSB a 7-5 lead as she scored on a penalty shot with 6:36 remaining.

Ten seconds later, however, things started to fall apart for Santa Barbara – Irvine followed the Kunkel goal with a goal of its own at the 6:26 mark, making the score 7-6. With 1:34 remaining, the Anteaters tied the game at 7-7, and it looked as though the game might go into overtime. After UCSB was faced with an ejection, Irvine’s Jessica Lewis scored the game-winning goal with just three seconds remaining, finishing off a three-goal turnaround in the fourth quarter and handing the Gauchos a heartbreaking 7-8 loss.

“We made some mental mistakes and did not manage the clock well,” Altman said. “I thought we played well below our potential, and this week we need to just work harder.”