Winning the Western Women’s Lacrosse League (WWLL) Championship was a warm-up; now the UCSB women’s lacrosse team wants a national championship.
Santa Barbara (16-1) enters this weekend’s U.S. Lacrosse Intercollegiate Associates National Championship Tournament as the #1 seed, determined to complete its best season in school history as the top team in the country. After capturing their first-ever WWLL title in Davis on April 24, the Gauchos head to Blaine, Minn. from Thursday through Sunday to compete for the most coveted prize in women’s lacrosse. After flying across the country tomorrow morning, Santa Barbara, which finished sixth in the 2004 USLIA National Championship Tournament, will face #16 Minnesota-Duluth in the first-round Thursday at 2 p.m. If the Gauchos prevail, they will face the winner of the #8 Maryland vs. #9 Arizona State game Friday at 10 a.m.
“This whole season has been so amazing,” junior Katie Gong said. “We’ve looked really good [at practice this week] and we’re tired of waiting and just excited to play.”
Before UCSB can claim the championship, it must win four straight games in the single-elimination tournament. If Santa Barbara escapes its first two rounds, the tournament pairings make it possible for a semifinal match between the Gauchos and #4 Cal Poly. UCSB is 3-1 against the Mustangs in the season-series against its rival, but Cal Poly handed the Gauchos their only loss of the season, beating UCSB 9-5 in Santa Barbara on April 15. Also competing in the national tournament will be a host of unfamiliar yet talented East Coast teams.
“We’re going to take everything one game at a time and try not to get ahead of ourselves,” Gong said. “[East Coast schools] are a little more physical and have better stick skills but I think we’re better conditioned and have a longer season to prepare for nationals.” Fickle weather conditions may shake up things this weekend in Minnesota. According to the Weather Channel, temperatures are expected to be in the 40s and 50s with a high chance of showers from Thursday through Saturday. Santa Barbara has proven to be weather-durable, winning the Cal Poly Invitational in March in Los Olivos by edging the Mustangs in rain-drenched conditions by one point in its first meeting of the year.
“We’ve done a lot of running and even double days to prepare for this weekend,” sophomore Shanna Mota said. “Last year we weren’t ready but this year each person contributes to the team and we know what nationals will be like.”