After suffering a disheartening loss to UC Irvine in the first round of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) conference championships last Thursday, the UCSB women’s water polo team finished off its season with a win over #12 Cal State Northridge Friday, taking 11th place in the tournament.
The Gauchos, helped by three goals from freshman Gillian Morgan and a strong third quarter in which they scored four of their eight goals, notched an 8-5 victory in their last sprint of the season.
“[Morgan] is pretty consistent, but this time she really stepped up and helped us out a lot,” junior center Sarah Kovach said. “I think before the game she was really motivated and it showed in her playing.”
The victory came as a blessing for the #11 Gauchos in light of the narrow loss to UC Irvine in their opening game of the tournament. Both team members and Head Coach Danielle Altman were optimistic after the Irvine game, hoping to end their season on a good note.
According to Kovach, the women had a team meeting after Thursday’s loss and were committed to beating Northridge and ending their season on a win. The team looked to the seniors for inspiration, wanting to send them out with a victory in the final sprint of their college career.
“I honestly think team morale had a lot to do with us winning,” Kovach said. “Everyone wanted to win it for the seniors and we were all really spirited and supportive of each other.”
Defense was a big part of the Gauchos’ victory Friday, which also led to successful offensive opportunities in the second half. Sophomore goalkeeper Jenny Gonzalez had 11 saves on the day to the anchor to team’s defense.
In the biggest surprise of the day junior defender Aimee Stachowski, who has been out since mid-March with a back injury, saw some playing time and contributed one goal in the sprint.
“[Stachowski] was a champ out there,” Kovach said. “She stuck it out and it helped our team a lot just to have her in the water.”
Many of the Gauchos’ late-season woes can be accounted for by the loss of Stachowski, one of the best defensive players on the team. The women lost five straight matches after she went out during a Spring Break tournament held in Hawaii, and it has not been easy for the team to find a win in her absence.
Senior utility Jen D’ Anna, the leading scorer for the Gauchos this season, also had one goal in the final sprint of her college career. Junior utility ZiZi Clark and freshman defender Amanda Tipton also had one score each on the day.
The final sprint of the season was also the final game for the seniors including D’Anna, Alaina Whitaker and Annie Kiening. With the concluding victory, the team ended their season one game over .500, going 19-18 on the season with a #11 national ranking.