The #17 UCSB women’s water polo team, seeded fourth in the Big West Conference’s inaugural postseason women’s water polo tournament, will play #25 Pacific on Friday at 4 p.m. in Stockton in a rematch of the 4-3 loss the Gauchos sustained against the Tigers on March 29.
“We’re ready to go out and show that we’re definitely the better team,” senior utility Gillian Morgan said.
Last season, the Big West teams played in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation with the likes of Pac-10 powerhouses #1 USC, #2 Stanford, #3 UCLA and #5 California. Currently, five of the six teams in the Big West are ranked in the top 25 in the nation, including the Gauchos, #10 UC Irvine, #9 UC Davis, #13 CSUN and #18 Long Beach State. Although Pacific beat the Gauchos, it was its only conference victory on its way to a 9-23 season. UCSB finished the season 15-11, 1-4 in conference play after beating Long Beach 8-5 in overtime on April 18.
“[Being in the Big West] is a huge difference; it’s much better for us,” Head Coach Wolf Wigo said. “The conference is even, and there’s lots of parity. Everybody has the opportunity to be leaders in the conference.”
Morgan became the second Gaucho, behind Kelley Tiffany (1999-2002), to score 200 career goals after scoring five in Santa Barbara’s 11-6 victory over Sonoma State in their last match on April 18 at Long Beach’s Campus Pool. She scored nine total in three matches over the weekend and has a team-leading 78 for the season.
“She’s by far our biggest offensive weapon,” Wigo said. “She’s getting marked by every team because they know who she is. It’s impressive that she’s been able to continue scoring.”
Sophomore attacker Katie Kepner leads the Gauchos in assists with 19 and is riding a six-game scoring streak. Offensively, UCSB is averaging 10.2 goals per game which is 2.31 more goals than their 7.89 average last season. The team is also allowing 1.3 fewer goals this season, thanks to the efforts of sophomore goalkeeper Chelsea Carrillo, who hit double digits in saves over the three-game weekend, including 13 against Long Beach.
In their last match against the Tigers, the score remained 3-3 until the final 1:25 of the fourth quarter, when Pacific’s Allison Kosich hit a game winning, backhanded shot right before the shot clock expired.
“We had never lost to them before, so that was pretty unfortunate,” Morgan said. “We had good shots that weren’t falling. Our goal is to keep up the defense [from that match] while creating more offense.”
Pending a victory over Pacific, the Gauchos will play top-seeded Cal State Northridge, who finished the regular season 20-16 and beat the Gauchos 10-6 on April 4. The championship will be on Sunday at 3:45 p.m. Along with CSUN, #2 UC Davis will also have a bye in the first round of the tournament. The Aggies will play the winner of Irvine v. Long Beach State on Saturday at 5:45 p.m.
“We’re taking it one game at a time; our first goal is to beat Pacific,” Wigo said. “The next goal is to beat Northridge. We played them really tough. It’s a game we can win if we get past UOP.”