After spending the month of February on the road, the #13 UCSB women’s water polo team took advantage of their first weekend home stand of the 2009 regular season by dismantling CSU Monterey Bay 15-7 on Thursday before going 3-1 at the Gaucho Spring Invite at Campus Pool, knocking off two of the three ranked opponents they faced. The Gauchos (10-6 overall) dominated an unheralded Claremont-Mudd-Scripps squad 16-1 in the invite’s opener, and beat #16 Long Beach State 7-6 for the second time this year. On the second day, Santa Barbara split their two matches with an 8-5 win over #19 UC San Diego before falling 7-3 to #6 San Diego State.

On Thursday, UCSB looked to leave no doubt with a convincing 15-7 win over Cal State Monterey Bay (3-16) during their home opener. Both teams traded goals in the outset, but the Gauchos rode two of senior utility Gillian Morgan’s game-high four goals to an early 4-2 lead by the first period’s end. The Gauchos broke the game open in the second with tough defense, holding the Otters scoreless while netting three of their own. For a team that had struggled to maintain leads in the third period, Santa Barbara played remarkably well out of the locker room, striking three more times while allowing only a single goal, bringing the lead to 10-3. Things got a bit wild in the fourth (which was essentially eight minutes of garbage time), when CSUMB cut the lead to 10-6 with three consecutive goals, but the Gauchos held fast, relying on three big goals by sophomore center Kristin Kulakowski to maintain the lead.

“We did what we had to,” said Head Coach Wolf Wigo. “We got out to a good lead. Sometimes when you play a weaker team and let them stay in the game, it gives them a chance to win, and we didn’t do that. In the first quarter, we allowed a few iffy goals, but in the second we shut them out, and got some players in who really don’t get to play as much.”

UCSB retook Campus Pool on Saturday to meet a Claremont-Mudd-Scripps team (3-5) whose former head water polo coach now sat on the opposite bench. Assistant Coach Tim Settem did his former team no favors as the Gauchos jumped out to a commanding 7-0 lead by the end of the first period. After that, the Gauchos’ attack seemed to lose interest, netting only four goals over the next two periods while continuing to shut out the Athenas. In fact, CMS’ first and only goal of the game took place with less than four minutes remaining in the fourth, more of a pity goal by the Gaucho reserves than anything else. Morgan and Kulakowski combined for six goals, while sophomore goalkeeper Chelsea Carrillo saved 10.

Santa Barbara got its first real test of the invitational hours later against Long Beach State (5-11), in a rematch of February’s 11-10 nail-biter in Irvine. UCSB came out on top then, and looked to do so in a thrilling fashion yet again, cradling a 3-2 lead going into the second period. In what turned out to be the difference in the game, junior center Lizzie Rouleau and sophomore utility Kathryn Nelson scored back-to-back goals to stretch the lead to 5-2, a lead that would be cut to 5-3 at halftime. Sophomore goalkeeper Kate Murphy was instrumental in protecting the slim advantage, saving 11 on the day. Morgan paced the Gauchos with just two goals.

In the tournament’s second day, UCSB split games against the two San Diego schools, beginning first with UCSD (4-10). The two UC rivals entered the intermission deadlocked at 3-3.

Roulaeu came up big for the Gauchos in the second half, striking twice at key junctures, and the defense responded, shutting out the Tritons in the fourth to hang on for an 8-5 win. Campus Pool’s magic would run out for the home team against SDSU (14-3), as the Gauchos unfortunately saved their worst performance for the championship match. The Aztecs shut down the potent Gaucho attack during the second and third periods, turning a 2-1 deficit into a 5-2 lead entering the fourth. UCSB was only able to score once more, and it wasn’t enough to prevent a 7-3 home humiliation, their first loss in six straight games.