The UCSB women’s water polo team was looking forward to another chance to play defending national champion USC. The Gauchos won’t get that shot after a disappointing loss to San Diego State in the first round of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament.
The #6 Gauchos (15-12 overall, 5-7 in the MPSF) came out flat in the first half and eventually lost to #14 SDSU (15-16 overall, 3-9 MPSF) 7-4. The seventh-seeded Gauchos had previously defeated the 10th-seeded Aztecs twice this season.
“It’s extremely disappointing because we should not have lost this game,” sophomore driver Sarah Kovach said. “It’s really hard to be sixth in the nation and then have to finish in the bottom five of the MPSF.”
The Aztecs took an early lead with two first-quarter goals and led 4-1 at halftime. UCSB played better in the second half, but it wasn’t enough as Aztec goalie Sarah Kilgore kept the Gauchos from completing the comeback attempt. Kilgore finished the game with a career-high 13 saves.
Sophomore utility ZiZi Clark, junior utility Alaina Whitaker, freshman driver Dana Saign and senior 2-meter defender Katy Kunkel each scored a goal for the Gauchos. It was career goal number 101 for Kunkel, moving her into sole possession of fifth place on the all-time Gaucho scoring list.
The Gauchos came into the game heavily favored, and may have overlooked SDSU as a possible rematch with #2 USC awaited the first-round winner. Santa Barbara had played the Trojans twice this season, losing both games.
“We might’ve been looking too far ahead. We were thinking about what we were going to do against USC and what would happen after that game,” Kovach said. “We were thinking more about USC since we just figured we would beat San Diego State.”
UCSB will now take on San Jose State with a berth in the ninth-place game on the line. The Gauchos and Spartans have faced off twice this season, with UCSB winning both games by a goal. The -seeded Spartans lost their first-round game to sixth-seeded Cal, 7-5.
“This loss hit us really hard but we have to get over it and go out and beat San Jose State,” Kovach said. “This is the end of the season so we have to step it up on Saturday and place as high in this tournament as we possibly can.”
Saturday’s game will be played at 9:45 a.m. at the Spieker Aquatic Complex in Berkeley.