The #9 UCSB women’s water polo team (15-11 overall, 5-7 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) ended its regular season on a high note, upsetting two ranked opponents at home over the weekend.
In their final conference game of the season, the Gauchos defeated #4 Long Beach on Saturday 8-6. On Sunday against #6 Loyola Marymount, sophomore utility ZiZi Clark scored the game-winning goal to give UCSB a 5-4 victory on Senior Day at Campus Pool in a sudden-death overtime thriller. The two wins should be a big lift for the Gauchos as they go into the MPSF Tournament.
“It gave us a lot of confidence to beat two good teams,” junior utility Jennifer D’Anna said. “These two wins really proved to ourselves that we were still capable of competing with top teams.”
Coming off of three consecutive losses, Saturday’s matchup with Long Beach was a must-win for Santa Barbara. After Long Beach jumped out to a 2-0 advantage early on, a goal by sophomore 2-meter defender Aimee Stachowski with 26 seconds remaining in the first quarter got the Gauchos on the board. Stachowski scored her second of the game to push the lead to 4-2 at the half and cap a second quarter that saw three unanswered goals by UCSB.
Santa Barbara’s surge continued into the second half. One minute into the third quarter, freshman Lindsay Llewellyn scored to increase the lead to 5-2. The 49ers attempted to rally with a pair of goals in the third, but UCSB continued to have an answer for Long Beach’s attack. With 1:26 remaining in the game, Long Beach closed the gap to 7-6, but a goal by junior utility Alaina Whitaker seconds later sealed the victory for UCSB.
“This past week we were more relaxed and had a lot of fun out there,” D’Anna said. “We really felt like we had nothing to lose [in these last two games].”
Saturday’s effort carried over to Sunday against Loyola Marymount. The game stayed close throughout, and senior 2-meter defender Katy Kunkel scored her 100th career goal to tie the game at 2-2. It looked as though the Gauchos would come out on top after Alaina Whitaker gave them a 3-2 lead late in the fourth quarter, but LMU tied the game at 3-3, forcing it into overtime. After two back-and-forth overtime periods, the game went into sudden death and sophomore ZiZi Clark came through with the heroics, netting the game-winning goal.
UCSB will next travel to Berkeley, where it will compete as the #7 seed in the MPSF Tournament.