The top 16 teams in the nation will venture to Santa Barbara this weekend, as the women’s water polo team hosts the Gaucho Invitational at both Campus Pool and the Rec Cen pools. Santa Barbara, ranked 11th in the country as of yesterday’s current Top-20 polls, will begin tournament play in a sprint with sixth-ranked Cal.

The Gauchos have had trouble scoring in the first half of most of their games this season, and strong second-half efforts have brought them within just a few points of notching a victory. Sunday, the women hosted 10th-place San Jose State, who outscored them 5-1 in the first half. The Spartans’ defense was almost as dominating as their offense, tallying six saves in the first 14 minutes of the match. The Gauchos came back with six goals in the final half, but they fell short in the end, losing 9-7.

“We have been a second-half team all season and that doesn’t cut it when you’re playing against the top teams,” Head Coach Danielle Altman said. “Our first halves are really weak, but if you look at the second half, we outscore them, but it’s not quite enough.”

Saturday’s match against Stanford was similar to Sunday’s, with the Cardinals dominating the first quarter 4-0, later allowing the Gauchos to climb back as they outscored the #3 team in the nation 5-4 in the final three quarters. To the members of the team, it seems as if they are simply lacking confidence in themselves, as well as misjudging their opponents as they enter the pool.

“I think our whole team underestimated [San Diego State and Stanford] and our own abilities,” junior center Sarah Kovach said.

The Gauchos, according to both coaches and players, are a strong defensive team this season and they hope their backcourt game will compliment their struggling first-half offense going into this weekend’s tournament.

“Our #1 goal is to perfect our defense because defense wins games – hopefully our offense will follow,” Kovach said.

The women’s first opponent in the tourney will be Cal, whom they face at 12:30 Saturday afternoon. According to Altman, the Bears are a very quick and strong team, and, year after year, they seem to find themselves among the top five teams in the country.

Santa Barbara will then face either Stanford in a rematch of Sunday’s heartbreaker, or #15 UC San Diego, a team that eked out a 6-5 victory against the Gauchos earlier this month in the Triton Invitational.

The Gauchos also have a few exhibition matches being held on Friday to warm them up for the weekend. They face two teams that will also be playing in the invitational, beginning at noon with Brown University and later at 4 p.m. with #14 UC Davis.

According to Altman, the teams who have dominated this tournament in the past include Stanford, UCLA and #1 USC, all who have continually placed in the top three every year.