The 2009 regular season began in earnest for the #17 UCSB women’s water polo team as the Gauchos went 2-1 at the Lancer Invitational in Riverside on Saturday. The Gauchos (2-1 overall) dropped their opener to #18 Cal State Bakersfield 13-9 after falling into an early hole before beating their next two opponents (Cal State San Bernardino and Concordia) by a combined score of 30-9.

Having beaten Bakersfield by a narrow 14-13 margin last year, UCSB likely entered the rematch expecting more of the same. Yet even with those expectations, Bakersfield (2-0) caught Santa Barbara seemingly unaware in the first period, jumping out to a 5-1 lead before the first break. Senior driver Katherine Gillett got the scoring started with her first goal of the year, while senior utility Petra Koudelkova contributed one of her game-high four goals near the end of the first.

UCSB soon recovered a bit and cut the lead to two with less than a minute elapsed in the second period after junior center Lizzie Rouleau and senior defender Amanda Tipton had their say. The Roadrunners would respond with two strikes of their own, but sophomore utility Alisha Khan narrowed the deficit to 7-4 with a goal of her own before halftime. Khan, who saw no action in 2008, led the Gauchos with three goals.

“I think we just came into it not as mentally prepared as we should have been,” senior utility Gillian Morgan said. “We got down by some goals, but ultimately we made some mistakes, some beginning-of-the-season mistakes that should be easy to correct and get better.”

In the second half, both teams traded four goals apiece before ending the game on a 3-1 run, a run capped off by junior two-meter Alyson Moss’ five-meter penalty goal with 1:49 remaining in the fourth. Sophomore goalkeeper Chelsea Carrillo saved five in her first start, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the 13-9 loss.

Hours later, Santa Barbara took the pool once again to face Cal State San Bernardino (0-2), a team that had just lost 18-7 to Cal Baptist. The Coyote’s second match turned out to be just as lopsided as the first, with Santa Barbara outscoring San Bernardino 9-2 in the first half. Morgan posted her first two goals of the year, one of 12 different Gauchos to find the back of the net at least once. Rouleau lead UCSB with three goals, while sophomore attacker Cailee Kilroy and sophomore center Kristen Kulakowski contributed two apiece. The second half was little different than its predecessor, as Santa Barbara dropped eight on the overmatched Coyotes for a 17-4 final score. San Bernardino’s only offense came from junior utility Kaitlin Hartman, who scored all four of CSUSB’s goals, one in each period.

In the third match, UCSB dismantled Concordia (1-1) 13-5 to close out the invitational. The Eagles looked to make a game of it early, scoring the first two goals of the game. Morgan and Rouleau got the Gauchos going with goals of their own, and the teams traded goals to end the first tied at 3-3. After that, it was all UCSB. Santa Barbara outscored Concordia 10-2 over the final three periods, turning a 3-3 tie into a 13-5 win. Rouleau posted a season-high four goals, while Morgan and junior defender Kaitlin Kubas added three each. Sophomore goalkeeper Kate Murphy saved six in her second start of the year.

“They [CSUSB and Concordia] were definitely a lot lower level of a team than Bakersfield, but we also played a lot better,” said Morgan. “Our counterattack was pretty good. … Every time down the pool someone was up, our goalie was doing a really good job passing and getting the ball out, so we scored almost all of our goals just on counterattacks. But I think while they were easier games, we did play a lot better, offense and defense combined.”

UCSB will stay on the road to participate in the Triton Invitational at UCSB starting Feb. 7 at 12:45 p.m. against Cal State Northridge.