Nestled quaintly on a small field in the Santa Ynez Valley, the UCSB women’s lacrosse team found a sanctuary amid the challenges mounted by a storming tempest.
The Gauchos swept all four of their matches at the Cal Poly Invitational located in Los Olivos over the weekend, highlighted by toppling defending national champion University of Michigan 14-6 on Saturday and Central Coast rival Cal Poly 9-8 on Sunday. Santa Barbara improved to 8-0 on the season and is expected to move to #1 in the polls when the latest LaxPower rankings are released later this week.
“This weekend proved to us that we have what it takes to beat some of the best competition,” sophomore midfield Shanna Mota said. “We don’t need to have the number one ranking to know we can win though.”
Santa Barbara entered the weekend ranked second nationally, but wins over #1 Michigan, #3 Cal Poly and #9 UCLA likely solidified the nation’s top lacrosse spot in the U.S. Lacrosse Women’s Association (US-WDIA). Junior attack Katie Gong said she believes that an undefeated season and a national championship are attainable goals.
“I think we have a very good chance this season,” Gong said. “If we can play like we did against Michigan, where we’re not playing down to our competition, I think we can do it.”
In last year’s national championship game in St. Louis, Mo., Michigan surged from behind, two goals late in the contest to beat the Gauchos after a 45-minute weather postponement rocked UCSB’s momentum. On Saturday, Santa Barbara seized the victory by applying an unforgiving press at midfield and outrunning defenders on the counter-attack. The Wolverines notched several goals in mop-up time to make the score look respectable.
In Sunday’s finale, Santa Barbara shot out of the gate and built a commanding 8-2 lead over Cal Poly mid-way through the second half. But yellow cards to Gong and Mota teamed with miserable weather conditions to test Santa Barbara’s resolve. The Mustangs rallied to score six straight and tie up the contest 8-8 with under five minutes to play. With time winding down sophomore center Brooke Julicher slipped a shot past the Cal Poly goalie, propelling UCSB to a one-point last-minute victory.
“It was an amazing feeling,” Gong said. “We have so many great connections on the team that we really know we can score when we need to.”
Gong said she recalled a similar ending to last year’s match with the Mustangs. Gong said that with less than two minutes to play, Cal Poly notched the equalizer against Santa Barbara, but that UCSB scored the go-ahead goal with just seconds remaining to slip past their rivals.
“In both of the games we only won by one goal so it shows that we can win close games,” Mota said. “But we need to do a better job of playing the entire game and not letting [our opponents] back into it.”