In its sixth game in three days a fatigued UCSB women’s water polo team lost 8-6 to #8 Arizona State in February’s Gaucho Invitational. This Friday the Gauchos, rested and wielding a newly improved pressure defense, seek revenge on the Sun Devils at Campus Pool at 4 p.m.
“I think the biggest thing for us is going to be a strong press defense and creating a lot of opportunities and capitalizing on them,” senior attacker Alaina Whitaker said. “If we can minimize our mistakes, then we can win.”
According to Whitaker, one of the Gauchos’ top scorers, who had two goals in the last meeting with Arizona State, the team has been working on a different approach on the defensive end of the pool. In practice, they have been developing a stronger press defense designed to capitalize on some apparent weaknesses the Sun Devils have with their offensive game.
“They’re not very good ball handlers and they don’t have very strong two-meter players, so we are going to capitalize on that,” Whitaker said. “If we play like we should play, we should win.”
Whitaker is the Gauchos’ second leading scorer on the team with 17 goals on the season. Senior utility Jen D’Anna, who led the Gauchos last season with 93 goals also leads the team this year, hitting the back of the cage 26 times thus far.
Santa Barbara is coming off a strong game last weekend, crushing Pacific last Sunday 18-3. They also had a stellar performance on Saturday, facing #6 Cal but to their disappointment, they missed an upset by one goal in the final minute after outplaying the Golden Bears most of the game.
The Gauchos had Monday’s practice off due to the inclement weather and are far more rested than they were in the last sprint against Arizona State. Arizona State is still ranked 8th, but since then the Gauchos have moved from 11th to the #10 team in the country – a ranking they have stayed at since losing to Arizona State. The loss also kept them from placing ninth in the tourney, falling to the 10th place.
“They capitalize on all our mistakes which is why they won the last time,” junior center Sarah Kovach said. “I think communication within the defense will help us be more aware and if we minimize our turnovers we should be fine.”
This sprint will be a chance for the Gauchos to not only seek revenge against the Sun Devils but, with a win they can possibly move up in the rankings and improve on their 8-9 overall record. UCSB is currently 1-4 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MSPF) and a win against a team like Arizona State would be a big boost before going on the road.
Saturday the women, in their final home appearances before a six game road trip, face Marist at 8 a.m., University of Redlands at 1:15 p.m. and Santa Clara at 3:30 p.m. in a three-way mini-tournament. According to Whitaker, they should be the dominant team.
“I think [the mini-tournament] will be a good chance for us to not play down to teams and show all the talent that we have,” Whitaker said, claiming that Santa Clara would be the strongest team of the three.
None of these teams are ranked, so the three-way should be a showcase for the Gauchos’ talent and a confidence builder before hitting the road.