After managing only one win over its inaugural season in the Big West, the #17 UCSB women’s water polo team took second at the Big West Championships in Stockton this weekend after a thrilling semifinal win over top-seeded #13 CSU Northridge propelled the fourth-seeded Gauchos into the championship game. Santa Barbara (17-12 overall, 1-4 in Big West) finished the season with 11 more wins than the previous year, including six victories over ranked opponents.
“Overall it was a great performance,” Head Coach Wolf Wigo said. “They really stepped up and played well. Going to the final game, we knew we were up against a better team. [Irvine] was on fire, and our shots weren’t that accurate.”
In the tournament’s opening round, UCSB squared off against a fifth-seeded Pacific squad (9-24, 1-4) that had bested them 4-3 at Campus Pool during the regular season. Both teams started off strong offensively, equaling their previous meeting’s final score after the first eight minutes. Finding themselves in possession of a fragile 4-3 lead going into the second period, Santa Barbara turned up the heat defensively, holding the Tigers to just five goals for the match’s remainder while netting 10 of their own. The Gaucho seniors paced the offensive assault, with two-meter Lizzie Rouleau and defender Amanda Tipton securing a hat trick each while utility Gillian Morgan contributed two of her own.
“Throughout the whole tournament we played really well,” said Morgan. “Coming in we weren’t expected to do really well, but we came in and killed Pacific.”
After putting away Pacific with relative ease, UCSB ran up against a Northridge squad (20-16, 4-1) who had convincingly beaten the Gauchos twice during the regular season by scores of 10-7 and 10-6. However, their third meeting would be close from the get-go, with Tipton putting UCSB on the board with 3:50 left in the first. The Matadors would answer before time ran out, and the two teams remained deadlocked going into the second. Both teams would trade goals until the score froze at 4-4 for the entirety of the fourth, forcing overtime.
In the first overtime, sophomore utility Sydney Sonoda put the Matadors up one with 1:04 remaining, but Tipton would answer with a strike of her own on the very next possession, once again knotting the score at 5-5. With no goals scored by either squad for the remainder of OT, the game went into sudden victory, setting the stage for Morgan’s cross-net game winner, sending the Gauchos to the final round.
“The win against Northridge was big for us,” said Wigo. “[Carrillo] played great in the cage, [Morgan] and the two seniors played great games, and [Tipton] had a huge lob to tie the game up in overtime.”
The Cinderella story would unfortunately end unhappily for the Gauchos, as second-seeded #10 UC Irvine jumped out to a 3-1 first-period lead and never looked back. The trio of Tipton, Morgan and Rouleau combined for only three goals in the final game of their collegiate careers, while the Anteater offense dropped 13 on Santa Barbara for the title.