Coming off a season filled with underachievement, humiliation and disappointment, the UCSB women’s water polo team opens the 2008-09 season at the Lancer Invitational in Riverside this Saturday with new faces poised to turn the program around.

Just how bad did it get for UCSB in 2007-08? The Gauchos began the season well enough, reeling off four straight wins to start the season. Santa Barbara was averaging 16 goals per game and already had two victories by a single goal under the belt, a signal that this team could win close games. Then-junior utilities Gillian Morgan and Christie Clark combined for 22 goals over a four-game stretch, and UCSB looked like they were going to surprise a few teams.

Then, the bottom fell out of the Gaucho’s season. After starting the season 4-0, UCSB would lose 16 straight matches en-route to a 6-21 overall record, their two lone wins coming against a Pacific squad that would not win a game in conference. Of Santa Barbara’s 21 losses, 11 of them were by two goals or less. While Morgan and Clark would continue to shine (they would stay the team’s leading goal scorers), UCSB’s defense all but negated any offensive prowess the team could muster, keeping them out of close games. Santa Barbara surrendered on average 9.63 goals per game, a figure placing them 12th out of 13 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation teams.

To add insult to injury, first year Head Coach Jenn Durley was forced to resign for medical reasons midway through conference play, and for a time UCSB had to abandon Campus Pool by order of the school’s athletic department, likely due to the pool’s severe need of renovation. Interim Head Coach Paul Rave could not right the sinking ship, helplessly watching his team finish the regular season 1-11 in conference and 5-18 overall, both program lows.

However, with major personal shifts at the top, the Gauchos look to redeem themselves for last year’s season-long debacle. Fresh off the most successful men’s water polo campaign during his tenure, Head Coach Wolf Wigo now finds himself at the helm of the women’s program as well, replacing Rave. For a coach to command both a men’s and women’s team is nothing new: UCLA and USC also sport similar coaching models. UCSB will also have the help of Morgan, the MPSF’s twelfth leading scorer who led the Gauchos with 50 goals last season. Inside, Santa Barbara will rely on junior center Lizzie Rouleau to continue her inspired play near the tail end of 2007-08. Rouleau netted 23 on the season, 12 of them coming in her last seven games. Offense aside, for the UCSB to actually contend, the defenses have to hold. With the graduation of Jenny Gonzales, sophomore goalkeepers Kate Murphy and Chelsea Carrillo step into the spotlight as the Gauchos keys to success, with Murphy the projected starter. Last year the Newport Beach native saved 20 in limited minutes.

UCSB embarks on the road to redemption this Saturday with a triple-header at the Lancer Invitational in Riverside, beginning with a match against Cal State Bakersfield at 9:30 a.m. The Gauchos will then play Cal State San Bernardino and Concordia at 2 and 3 p.m., respectively.